Sawyer reflects on 15 years as port commissioner - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Sawyer reflects on 15 years as port commissioner

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -

He's served on the Mississippi State Port Authority Board of Commissioners for the past 15 years. But now, Lenny Sawyer is about to step down.

He says it's been a rewarding experience, helping guide the State Port at Gulfport since 1997.  Recently, the challenges have included revising and pursuing plans for the so-called "Port of the Future."

But despite questions about job creation and prodding from the governor to "get moving," Commissioner Sawyer says he wouldn't have done anything differently

Almost a year ago, at a news conference in Gulfport, then Governor Haley Barbour was praising the "Port of the Future" and plans to elevate the port to 25 feet.

"I feel like that caught the attention of the world," says Lenny Sawyer.

Commissioner Sawyer admits those plans have changed somewhat, but he remains optimistic the port can grow and create jobs. But he says it's more than elevation alone.

"Not only the elevation. We need our channel deepened. At least to 36 feet if not to 42. We need a good port road. We need a good rail to send our cargo all over the United States," he explained.

Sawyer believes that promise to create 1200 jobs is within reach. And he doesn't blame Governor Bryant for pushing port leaders to get going.

"Our commander in chief wants us to move forward. Let's get going and get those jobs. We need them now, not five years from now. So, we're hearing his cry and we're going after it," he said.

He says deepening the channel is critical to future growth.

"It's very important. And not only the depth, the width. We need to double if not triple the width so that two ships can pass each other coming or going," said Sawyer.

Commissioner Sawyer says expanding the port to accommodate more tenants is only part of the economic development potential.

"We've talked a lot about maritime. But as our tenants move over on the west side, that's going to open up Highway 90 for commercial and retail development," he explained.

With all the attention to and questions about future port plans, might he have done things differently?

"Not one thing.  I'd have kept going just like we're doing," he said.

Lenny Sawyer says he'd like to thank the Harrison County Board of Supervisors for the opportunity to serve all those years.

Last week, supervisors voted unanimously to appoint engineer Bobby Knesal to replace Commissioner Sawyer.

Sawyer says one of his most rewarding experiences as commissioner was a trip to Brazil. That's where he visited a plant that makes fiber board and saw crates of that material labeled:  "To Gulfport."

Upon his return to the states, he saw that same cargo arriving at Gulfport, on its way to North Carolina for use in furniture manufacturing.

Copyright 2012 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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