Gulfport's port expansion plans discussed

By Jessica Bowman – email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The State Port of Gulfport's expansion could hinge on a 13-year-old permit to fill in a portion of the Mississippi Sound.

Some 60 acres have already been filled as part of the port's master plan to grow into the port of the future. But moving forward means getting permission from the Department of Marine Resources.

At a public hearing Tuesday, Gulfport's Chief Administrator explained why his city's future is tied to the port's future. Dr. John Kelly told a panel from the Department of Marine Resources there are more reasons for port expansion than against it.

"Jobs, high paying jobs is definitely good for the city," Dr. Kelly said.

As the Chief Administrative Officer for Gulfport, where the port is located, Kelly said a bigger, more diverse port operation will boost the city's economy.

"With high paying jobs, people are going to be out spending money. If you have people with good jobs, they buy homes. Property taxes, all of that comes back to the city of Gulfport in a way of taxes."

Kelly said the city does have some concern about how the port will bring in the thousands of pounds of dirt it will need to fill another 24 acres of wetlands.

"Many of the streets and roads are state roads, but our citizens have to drive on them and, of course, we are concerned about the quality of those roads."

Director of Port Restoration Joe Conn said port leaders are looking at several options.

"We will be looking at either option of barging in the material or trucking in the material. We will see which is most beneficial to the port and the city," said Conn.

The port first received the okay to fill in the area in 1997. The permit is still in place, the port needs the DMR to reaffirm it so work can begin.

"We're going to restore the port bigger and better than it was prior to Katrina," Conn said.

"It's just good to see that activity is starting and you are starting to turn dirt," said Kelly.

Officials with DMR said the request must be approved by the Committee of Marine Resources. The committee will hear the Mississippi State Port Authority's request November 16th at the MSU Extension Center on Popp's Ferry Road at 9am. DMR officials said the committee can either pass, deny or table the request.

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