Port officials willing to spend millions to deepen the channel

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Port of Gulfport is expected to receive $3 million this year from the Army Corps of Engineer for dredging. But in order to dredge the entire 18 mile ship channel, it will cost $8 million to $11 million.

Port commissioners feel so strongly about getting it done, they are willing to put up the rest of the money.

"For every inch, you are looking at somewhere between 200 and 300 tons of additional carriage capacity. So you are able to bring in more cargo and the vessels are here longer, which ultimately leads to more hours for the shore men, more business and more important opportunities for those who service the vessels," Port Director Jonathan Daniels said.

The entire 18 mile channel has not been 36 feet deep since 2009 because of recent storms and the channel widening project. Daniels said getting it back to the depth will be good for current tenants and also attract new tenants.

"We have a couple of signed mou's [memorandums of understanding] that are in place, and in part of our negotiations with them is that we need to be at that federally authorized depth," Daniels said. "Dole Fresh Fruit recently came out with a statement saying they will be larger vessels, 60 percent more containers."

Right now there is a study underway to see if the port can deepen the channel another 11 feet.

"There has been a perception in the public that the port does not plan to get back to 36 feet and ultimately get to a greater depth and I think that's not a fair statement," Daniels said.

Port officials have made it a priority to get the channel as deep as it can to continue to draw more businesses to South Mississippi.

Daniels expects negotiations will take about six months, he hopes dredging can begin sometime next year.

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