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The state’s busiest port looks toward steady, productive 2015

The Bayou Casotte harbor is home to Chevron Pascagoula Refinery, Gulf LNG,  VT Halter Marine, Gulf LNG Energy, First Chemical Corp., Signal International and Mississippi Phosphates.

The Bayou Casotte harbor is home to Chevron Pascagoula Refinery, Gulf LNG,
VT Halter Marine, Gulf LNG Energy, First Chemical Corp., Signal International and Mississippi Phosphates.

By Tammy Leytham

The Port of Pascagoula will move forward with two major projects in 2015, keeping steady im-provements at the state’s busiest seaport – a $20 million-a-year operation.

More than 38 million tons of cargo are moved each year at the port, leading to 19,000 direct jobs on the waterways and 37,500 indirect jobs at more than a dozen major companies and agencies.

One of those projects will be widening the Bayou Casotte channel leading into that harbor, lo-cated on the east side of Pascagoula.

“We’re continue to improve the waterway,” said port director Mark McAndrews.

The port – operated by the Jackson County Port Authority – received a permit to widen that 11-mile-long channel and is now waiting for a letter stating that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will maintain it. “We expect it in the first quarter or first half of the year,” McAndrews said.

It’s a $30 million to $40 million project that will dredge about 38,200 feet of the existing channel to widen it from 350 feet to 450 feet.

The project will allow larger ships to enter the channel, and maneuver in any sea and wind con-ditions.

The port operates the Bayou Casotte channel, as well as the Pascagoula River ship channel.

The second project under way is construction of a wood-pellet export facility for Green Circle Bio Energy, which is building a plant in George County. About 700,000 tons of product will be shipped out of the port to European markets each year after it is operational, McAndrew said.

Bids were awarded last week on the first phase of that project – demolishing a shed at terminals E and F. After that work is completed, there will be wharf configuration, relocation of railroad ex-changes through downtown Pascagoula and construction of the terminal facility – a total $44 mil-lion project that will take 18 to 24 months to complete.

Another upswing in production for 2015 is happening at the Chevron Pascagoula Refinery, which opened its premium base oil production plant at the end of 2014.

The Pascagoula Refinery processes more than 330,000 barrels of foreign and domestic crude oil daily and employs 1,540 people, more than 50 of whom work in the shipping area, according to Bruce Chinn, refinery manager.

Chevron services more than 200 vessels each year at its wharf in Bayou Casotte, ranging from small intra-coastal barges with a 6,000 barrel capacity to Aframax tankers carrying more than 500,000 barrels.

Also on the horizon for 2015 is the development of export capability at the Gulf LNG plant on Bayou Casotte.

The $1.1 billion terminal was built with much fan-fare in 2011 to import super-chilled gas. A downturn in demand to import liquified natural gas, as well as the boom in U.S. development of that product, called for a request to develop the terminal’s export capability. In the second quar-ter of this year, Gulf LNG expects to file an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for Natural Gas Act Section 3 authorization to construct the project, said Richard Wheatley, director of corporate communications for Kinder Morgan, parent company of Gulf LNG.

“We are continuing discussions with potential customers, and the non-FTA export approval re-quest is still pending,” he said. The proposed project, which already has Free Trade Agreement export authority, would have up to 10 million tons per year of LNG export capacity.

“Subject to obtaining sufficient commitments from potential customers and regulatory approval, construction could begin in June 2016, with initial exports of LNG occurring in 2019,” Wheatley said.

The saga of Gulf LNG is indicative of how slowly things can move in federal regulatory waters.

“It will be nice to actually see that happen,” McAndrews said.

There has been a down shift in a couple of activities at the port. Mississippi Phosphates, a 200-employee fertilizer production plant on Bayou Casotte, filed for bankruptcy in October 2014. It stopped production in December 2014 and began layoffs of employees.

About 50 employees remain, maintaining core operations.

“We don’t know what will ultimately become of that facility since it is in bankruptcy,” McAndrews said. “We’ll have to see how that plays out.”

The port also lost the operators of freezer storage for the public terminals, which has stopped the handling of frozen poultry.

As for those public facilities, “we’re sort of in a transition phase in the coming year,” McAndrews said. “We are working with operators to find other uses.”

The port shipped 130,000 to 150,000 tons of frozen poultry a year, though McAndrews said that’s a small portion of the tonnage that moves through the port.

Port officials are in talks with some prospects, but it’s too soon to make any announcement, he said.

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