Port of Gulfport trying to maximize 36-foot channel depth - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Port of Gulfport trying to maximize 36-foot channel depth

Earlier this year, a maintenance dredging project at the Port of Gulfport was completed that put the shipping channel at its authorized depth of 36 feet. (Photo source: WLOX) Earlier this year, a maintenance dredging project at the Port of Gulfport was completed that put the shipping channel at its authorized depth of 36 feet. (Photo source: WLOX)
GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -

Earlier this year, a maintenance dredging project at the Port of Gulfport was completed that put the shipping channel at its authorized depth of 36 feet. But, what happened to those plans to deepen the channel to 45 feet or more?

Port director Jonathan Daniels said making maximum use of that 36 feet will still allow the port to accommodate larger vessels.    

“We currently have $250 million worth of ongoing construction,” said Daniels, as he gave visitors a tour of the expanding port.

Visitors enjoyed the free tour of the Port of Gulfport while learning about the ongoing expansion and future capabilities.

“We handle about 200,000 TEU's, 20-foot equivalents per year. That's 100,000 40-foot containers,” said Daniels.

For at least the immediate future, shipping lines that do business with the Port of Gulfport will make do with the existing 36-foot channel depth.

A request to deepen the channel was pulled from the current Army Corps of Engineers EIS, or environmental impact statement, because it may have slowed the EIS dealing with the dredge and fill permit to expand the terminal.

“Now, that does not mean that we're abandoning that idea, and it is always something that we will push for. But, we're very comfortable in moving forward, as of today, with 36 feet. Because again, that's the only thing, that's the depth we can guarantee is 36 feet,” Daniels explained. “We always talk about the fact that we're going to be looking at a deeper channel, and most of the time, those customers are saying, okay, we can come in there at 36 feet right now. That's plenty for us. As it evolves, we may evolve our operation.”

“That's a long, long process, and we always have that on the burner. We're always looking toward that,” said port commissioner Jim Simpson. “But, we're looking to meet our goals, our job goals and our success goals with the depth we've got. We want to get deeper, but success is not contingent upon that depth.”

Improved efficiency will help the port make the most use of that 36-foot depth. Even if it means smaller vessels.

“We can bring in smaller vessels at a faster clip. When you compare Port of Gulfport with New Orleans, from the time you pick up the pilot at the pilot station at the bar here, in less than two hours, you're already kissing the dock and you're already involved in your operation. If you go into New Orleans, you pick up your first pilot transfer to a second pilot. You're 12 to 16 hours, depending on, probably closer to 12, but depending on what the current is. It's a significant amount of time to get up there. There's also a significant expense, and that's something that's beginning to come out in the discussions that we're having,” said Daniels.

Diversification is a word the port director frequently uses when talking long term strategy. A diversity of jobs, like McDermott bringing 100 pipe production jobs to its new port location.

“We always will have a core of cargo handling. It's what the Port of Gulfport was born to do. We're always going to be an expert in certain forms and fashions of cargo handling, but rather than purely dealing with the ebbs and flows of international cargo, let's bring in some diversification. Let's bring in some jobs that are going to be there each and every day of the week. We're a 24/7 port. Let's utilize this facility to its maximum base,” said Daniels. “Certainly, there's going to be some people that continue to be against the project for whatever reason. We respect those opinions. I think what we've done is we've done a much better job of getting out to the public. This afternoon, we have the tours. We continue to do those on a quarterly basis. What we want to do is peel back the curtain and make sure that people understand that what we're talking about in the community is actually what's going on at the port site.”

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