GULFPORT —Work is set to begin June 6 on building a new wharf face for the west pier of the Port of Gulfport, a project that marks a key phase in restoring the port nearly destroyed almost a decade ago by Hurricane Katrina.
The Mississippi State Port Authority awarded Hattiesburg-based L&A Contracting a $55.8 million contract May 23 to upgrade the west pier wharf to allow for the placement of rail mounted gantry cranes. The contract also calls for utility upgrades to support the electric cranes which replace the port’s two diesel operated cranes.
Under the 910-day contract, the contract will be required to drive about 690 pilings and provide a new wharf face for the entire west pier.
Before installing the new pilings, L&A will demolish portions of the current 3,000 feet pier, said Cory Bielstein, company spokesman.
“The harbor side of it has got a timber fender system in it. All that is going to disappear,” he said. “The face is going to be removed,” he added, explaining the pier will no longer have portions that jut out but will be aligned flush from end to end.
Ultimately, the electric gantries that will replace the port’s diesel cranes will move along rails set on both the water side and land side of the pier, according to Bielstein.
Work is planned in three phases, with crews numbering from 20 workers in the beginning and growing to 40 to 50 later on, he said. The phasing of the work is necessary to prevent interfering with the port’s daily operations.
Many of the workers will be hired through the area’s WIN job centers. Most of the hires will be for labor rather than skilled work, Bielstein said.
Workers completed a project in 2011 to raise the 39-acre wharf to an elevation range of 12 feet to 14 feet, a height decided on after state and port officials wrangled over earlier plans to raise the pier to about 25 feet. Gov. Phil Bryant and other state leaders insisted the project be scaled back as a way to return the port to full operation as soon as possible.
Warehouses, a road and a rail line are to go onto the newly elevated wharf.
L&A Contracting submitted the low bidder from among some half dozen firms submitting competitive bids for the wharf work. The firm plans to use other local contractors in carrying out the project.
Jim Simpson, president of the port authority board of commissioners, called the award “a major step forward in the realization of a restored port.”
This construction contract is one of several representing an estimated $130 million to 180 million scheduled for award this year as part of the Port’s $570 million restoration program.
“We’re getting into the actual phase of construction as opposed to the earth work,” said Denton Gibbes, spokesman for the port authority board.
“Now we are building the foundation upon which the port will be built,” he added.
Port officials hope to ultimately deepen the port’s channel from 36 to 45 feet.