GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The two busiest ports on the coast are both taking steps to increase cargo capacity and attract new customers.
Dredging is about to begin at the Port of Gulfport to deepen the ship channel. And the Port of Pascagoula will soon begin an improvement project to widen its entrance channel.
At the Port of Gulfport: A welcome sight. Dredging equipment is now in place to begin the long awaited task of digging out the ship channel to its authorized depth of 36 feet.
"We have not been to 36 feet, our authorized depth, since before Katrina. We have done some moderate dredging in the last several years to take down some of the high spots," said Jonathan Daniels, executive director for the Port of Gulfport.
But this dredging work will affect the entire shipping channel from the port to the barrier islands.
Daniels says the added depth will not only help attract new cargo and customers. Existing tenants will benefit.
"For a company like DuPont that now has to take their vessels into the Mississippi River, take some of the material off, bring it over in barges before they bring the vessel over, this is a significant savings," he explained.
Meanwhile, 35 miles to the east at the Port of Pascagoula, a different sort of dredging improvement project will soon begin: Widening the main entrance channel from 450 to 550 feet.
"It improves safety and the ability to maneuver ships in higher wind and sea states. And the ability to gain more windows of opportunity throughout the day to move vessels," says Mark McAndrews, executive director at the Port of Pascagoula.
Also on the horizon is a wood pellet export operation should be up and running by mid-2016.
"It's a pretty substantial piece of business for the public facilities. It's expected initially to handle 500 thousand tons a year. But there's a great deal of interest in possibly expansion and handling third party cargo as well," said McAndrews.
The Port of Pascagoula also looks for significant benefits if the LNG terminal begins exporting natural gas. That operation represents about 10 million tons a year.
The wood pellet project at the Port of Pascagoula also involves some major railroad work and re-location. Part of the plan will result in the closing of 16 rail crossings in Pascagoula and Moss Point.