Port of Gulfport marks milestone in expansion project

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - It is the largest economic development project in Mississippi. And Wednesday, the State Port at Gulfport hosted an event to celebrate a milestone in the ongoing port expansion.

The total project is more than a half-billion dollars: $570 million to be specific.

It is a massive land expansion. But the job of dumping dirt to create 84 acres at the port is finished.

"If you were here four years ago, you'd be standing in the water. So, that's a physical sign of the progress we've made," said Port Commission President Jim Simpson.

He calls it a mammoth project that's faced multiple challenges and more than a few setbacks. Simpson asked for patience if it appears the port project is moving too slowly.

"We want you to know our approach is careful, methodical. We're mindful of our obligations in spending the federal dollars. Our goal is to restore this port and create the jobs that we're required to," said Simpson.

With all the progress at the port, one of the biggest issues is still job creation. The federal mandate is to create at least 1,200 jobs.

"The restoration of this project has been massive. Look around you. We've doubled the size of the port. The port of the future exists. And you're standing on it today," said Governor Phil Bryant.

Governor Bryant has been a watchdog over the project and is keenly aware of the concerns about job creation.

"Now, one of the first people I met as I drove up today was "Truck." Truck embraced me and said, 'We've got to work on jobs.' Oh, that's music to my ears. It's all about jobs! It's about putting men and women along the Mississippi Gulf Coast to work," said the governor.

Kenneth "Truck" Casey is a longshoreman and Gulfport City Council member. His assessment of the job situation may not be such sweet music to the governor's ears.

"The longshoremen should be included in the construction process of the port expansion. Every chance I get, I repeat that. And so far, it hasn't been done," said Casey.

At the governor's cue, the final dump truck load of fill dirt was emptied on the 80 plus acres. The port commission president welcomed a blessing of the project from Monsignor Dominick Fullam and acknowledged it hasn't been easy.

"They're hard issues. A lot to work out. And that's the most, everybody wants jobs. Everybody wants progress. It's how do we get there? We've got to involve the community and reach agreements with the stake holders. That's the toughest part," said Jim Simpson.

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