Gulfport councilman: Chiquita's problem is shallow port channel

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - As dozens of longshoremen wait to find out if they'll be unemployed, allegations are flying as to why Chiquita is taking its time in deciding whether to continue on at the Port of Gulfport.

Chiquita is supposed to notify port officials no later than Friday as to whether it will renew its lease. Gulfport Council Member and longshoreman Truck Casey said he thinks after 40 years Chiquita is exploring its options.

As Chiquita contemplates its future at the Port of Gulfport, the International Longshoremen's Association 1303 said dozens of union workers are walking on pins and needles waiting to hear if they'll lost their jobs.

"If Chiquita leaves, it would be devastating to the 80 longshoremen that are actually employed by Chiquita. Some for 20 or 30 years," President Darius Johnson said. "Not confirming when or if they're departing, it makes it hard for the longshoremen to make plans for what they have to do if they were to lose their jobs. I feel like the men deserve to know what direction Chiquita is going to take so they can better plan for their livelihood."

Gulfport Council Member Truck Casey said losing Chiquita would also mean the loss of 100 more indirect jobs like truck drivers and vendors.

Casey told WLOX News, "The fact is the port hasn't completed the expansion and hasn't done anything as far as deepening the channel. That's Chiquita's problem. They want to bring in larger ships, but they can't. They need at least 39 feet, but it would be better at 42 feet."

Port officials said slumping walls and fill from previous storms have reduced the controlling channel depth to 32 feet. The Army Corps of Engineers is supposed to be dredging to restore the channel to the original depth of 36 feet. That is supposed to take place sometime this year, depending on when the dredging equipment is available. Port officials said that's all part of a maintenance and operations project.

Port Director Jonathan Daniels said there is a separate project that could potentially deepen the channel up to 47 feet. The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting and environmental impact study on that right now.

When asked if Casey's assertion is true that a shallow channel has Chiquita upset is true, Daniels said, "That is not the case. Chiquita has not at any point ever indicated that the channel depth has been a problem."

Gulfport Councilman Truck Casey said he believes that if Chiquita pulls out, it could impact how contract renewals are negotiated with other port tenants. Casey said the tenants will likely want to pay less or threaten to leave.

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