Port commission back to business after milestone celebration

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - One day after celebrating a milestone at the Port of Gulfport, it was back to business Thursday for those who oversee the port expansion. Port commissioners held their regular monthly meeting, and future construction plans and job creation were on the agenda.

"We are now moving into the final design of the entire West Pier," said Restoration Director Joe Conn, "All the design will be done approximately in the next year."

Initial work includes a wharf improvement project to build the infrastructure needed to move cargo.

"It's going to put in crane rails for a new rail-mounted gantry crane. It's a three year project. Going to be in the neighborhood of sixty to eighty million dollars," Conn explained.

Concerns about job creation continue.

"I know that it was mostly about construction yesterday, but there's still a great concern that we, as you know, have actually lost jobs. And we have not done the job creation that you see in the action plan," Howard Page, with the Steps Coalition, told the board.

Port Commission President Jim Simpson took issue with some of the critical job comments in the press following Wednesday's event. He says job numbers reflect what tenants report.

"We don't hire those people. We provide a facility where Chiquita, Dole, Dupont, Crawley and others work at the port. We provide the facilities. Other people have the employees," said Simpson.

The latest numbers, through the month of March, show 1,070 employees at the port, below pre-Katrina levels.

The half-billion dollar expansion must create 1,200 new jobs, but the port has until three years after the restoration work to reach that requirement.

"There's nothing we consider a joke about this. It's very, very important to us. The job obligation and opportunities that we have here are the most serious thing that we consider," said Simpson.

Our report on Wednesday included comments from W.C. Fore, whose trucking company hauled the dirt to create that 84 acres of port property. He shared his concerns about the port authority needing to hire more local contractors.

At Thursday's commission meeting, W.C. Fore was awarded a $5 million contract for improvement work on the East Pier.

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