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State port in Gulfport planning significant improvements

GULFPORT — The Mississippi State Port Authority (MSPA), the third-largest container port on the Gulf of Mexico, continues to make major improvements as part of a

$250-million to $300-million capital improvement program that is adding more land and facilities while improving water, rail and highway transportation.

Gary LaGrange, executive director of the MSPA, said that an economic analysis has shown that the investment in improvements costs only about three to four cents per dollar of

economic activity generated.

“That is a great investment,” LaGrange said. “If I could find something in the stock market where I could put up four cents and get a dollar back, I’d buy it.”

The MSPA authority hopes to obtain federal funding to help deepen and widen the port, and is applying for Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2002 funds for the

project that would deepen port channels from 36 feet to 42 feet, and would widen the channel from 225 feet to 450 feet. LaGrange said that project, which would cost an

estimated $95 million, would basically double the capacity of the port.

Plans are for the channel work to be carried out from 2002 to 2005. The MSPA hopes to get a 65% federal grant to help pay for the project with the additional 35% paid for by

the port.

In addition to revenues generated by the port, general obligation bonds could be issued to help fund the improvements. In addition to improving water access, a $40-million

project to improve rail service between the port and Hattiesburg is planned to begin in the next six months. The Mississippi Department of Transportation has plans to improve

highway transportation with a new north-south corridor, the Canal Road extension, between U.S. 90 and Interstate 10. That new corridor would lessen traffic congestion on

U.S. 49.

New berth planned

Recently bids were let for a new multi-modal Berth 7 at the port’s West Terminal. Fore Construction of Gulfport was the successful bidder on that $13.8-million contract.

Tilley Construction was the successful bidder for a $7-million, 90,000-square-foot warehouse under construction on the East Terminal.

In the next several months the MSPA authority plans to advertise for bids to demolish Berth 2 and Berth 3 to create access space for the recently completed 105,000-square-foot

container freight station.

Also underway is the $12-million cofferdam construction on the West Terminal. The cofferdam will provide an underwater substructure to support piers and buildings. The port

is also advertising for bids for Wishbone Road, which will provide for direct access from the West Terminal to the East Terminal. “It will be beneficial to everyone not having to

go to Highway 90 to get from one side of the port to the other,” LaGrange said.

Other projects include an ongoing rehabilitation of the port by continuously improving all paving and fencing in the port. Also, bid advertisements are being prepared to have the

water tower and storage tanks painted.

Land expansion underway

The port also is continuing with a $36-million land expansion project. Work expected to begin sometime in 2001 will fill in the Mississippi Sound to add 60 acres of land for the

Mississippi Public Container Terminal on the west side of the port. Efforts are continuing to finish the 15-acre land expansion on the East Terminal.

LaGrange said that will leave open nine acres that the port has received permission to fill which could be used for other expansion needs down the road or sold for mitigation

banking credits.

In order to get permission to fill in the Mississippi Sound, the MSPA has agreed to replace a portion of the causeway to the Fountainbleau area of Jackson County. That project is

expected to restore tidal flow to the marsh, hence improving fish habitat, while also providing a better hurricane evacuation route. Currently the low-lying road to Fountainbleau

is one of the first to flood when waters rise, potentially standing hurricane evacuees in one of the areas of the Coast considered most vulnerable to hurricane damage.

It’s all about jobs

LaGrange said the port improvements will provide economic benefits for many workers, not just those such as truck drivers and dock workers employed at the port.

“The net effect of everything we are trying to do is create jobs, jobs and jobs,” LaGrange said. “And these are good-paying jobs.”

Having affordable international shipping options available at the port enhances international trade and economic development throughout the state, officials said.

“The Port of Gulfport contributes to the economy of the entire state of Mississippi,” said MSPA Commissioner Dalton McGuire. “The port contributes many millions of dollars to

the economy. The benefits travel all over the state.”

For more information on the 184-acre port site, visit the web site www.shipmspa.com. In 1999 the port moved about two million tons of cargo including products such as

tropical fruit, frozen poultry, ilmenite ore, apparel, body and bath products, coffee, limestone and forest products. Over $2 billion in cargo value went through the port in 1999,

making it 37th amongst the country’s 600 plus ports.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

About Becky Gillette

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