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Port revitalization to reach milestone Wednesday

Gov. Phil Bryant will be on hand Wednesday as the last truckload of “fill” is dumped on the west pier of the Port of Gulfport.

The 11 a.m. ceremony will mark a major milestone for the 80-acre fill project that’s part of the port’s overall restoration after Hurricane Katrina.

The project originally began as a much larger venture, with a $500 million price tag and designs on attracting megaships bound for Asia.

Those plans changed last summer, when port commissioners revealed that wouldn’t be possible once the Panama Canal is widened.

The project’s completion date, which to go with filling the west pier will include deepening the port’s channel to 45 feet, is scheduled for 2015.

The project has been a source of controversy since its inception. Former Gov. Haley Barbour was criticized by housing advocates and community activists for diverting Katrina-related recovery money from housing efforts to the port. Officials eventually diverted about $160 million originally meant for the port to housing programs. Federal guidelines attached to Katrina money allowed some funds earmarked for things like housing to be used for economic development.

As it is, the port’s job creation estimates hover around 1,300, to go with the 1,200 already employed there. Officials still hope it can attract as many large ships carrying textiles, automotive parts and fruit to Europe and Asia.

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