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Governor Barbour praises port expansion opportunity

Published: Dec. 9, 2011 at 4:23 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 9, 2011 at 10:58 PM CST
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GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The State Port at Gulfport represents an "enormous" economic development opportunity. That's the message Governor Haley Barbour delivered to a crowd of more than 250 people in Gulfport on Friday.

The governor praised the thousands of jobs the port expansion will create, but he cautioned the crowd, it won't happen overnight.

The crowd included strong supporters of the port expansion, those who doubt the project will happen, and some who oppose the complex plans.

Governor Barbour spoke for more than 30 minutes, praising the "Port of the Future" plans and thanking the community for its ongoing input.

"I believe 25 to 50 years from now, people will look back and say the Port of Gulfport restoration was the biggest economic development project in the history of Mississippi," Governor Barbour told the audience.

The first goal in creating that "Port of the Future" involves raising the port's elevation to 25 feet above sea level.

"Why? Because we don't want a hurricane to come through here and take all those containers and wash 'em into West Gulfport again like it did with Katrina," said Gov. Barbour.

The governor says more than 2000 construction jobs will be needed over the long range project. He says the first big economic boost will come in 2016-17 once the first phase of port improvements are finished.

"If this port gets to be as big as it can, it will have an enormous impact on this whole coast area, just by the number of people who are working there and whose jobs are dependent upon the port," he said.

A short video gave the crowd a better idea about the long range project.

Gerald Blessey was appointed by the governor to lead community discussions about the port plans.

"Economic opportunities. Community development opportunities. Environmental justice opportunities and issues, all come forward and we begin to see the connections and relationships," said Blessey.

Mississippi's incoming governor pledges to see the port project through.

"And that's what we've got to do folks, we've got to finish. We've got to finish this project. And as governor, it is going to be my priority to finish this," said Governor-elect Phil Bryant.

Governor Barbour told the crowd the contract for the port connector road should be awarded next month. That roadway will carry truck traffic from the port straight to I-10 without all the stoplights the trucks now face on Highway 49.

He says construction will likely begin next spring and take about five years to finish.

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