GULFPORT -- While the longshoremen's union waits for promised jobs to materialize from port expansion funded by the federal government, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is set to hold a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday on the port's future plans for growth.
The doors open at 5:30 p.m. for the informational meeting at the Courtyard Marriott on U.S. 90 in Gulfport. The Corps is taking comments on its draft evaluation of port plans to fill about 200 acres of water bottoms in the Mississippi Sound to expand the West Pier by an additional 160 acres and add 40 acres that would square off the north harbor for additional docking and storage.
The evaluation also looks at enlarging the port's turning basin and construction of a breakwater about 4,000 feet long.
The federal government is funding the current West Pier restoration and expansion with a $570 million post-Katrina grant. In exchange, the port is required to create 1,200 jobs.
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The project will not be finished until 2017, with only 98 jobs added so far. Executive Director Jonathan Daniels said the jobs number should be up to 102 when the next report is completed for the funding agency, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, at the end of December.
The 98 jobs added are nonunion jobs at Gulf Coast Shipyard Group, which is outfitting offshore vessels on the East Pier for the oil industry. Many of those jobs were transfers from the company's Seaway Road operation.
A second company on the East Pier, McDermott International Inc., is ramping up for spool-base pipe fabrication at the port. A McDermott spokesman said the company would not answer the Sun Herald's questions about its operation, including how many people it will employ, because it does not want to give competitors an advantage.
But Daniels said the port will start adding McDermott jobs to its HUD reports by the end of this year. When McDermott's arrival was announced in 2014, the port said the company would hire 100 full-time workers. Those are nonunion jobs.
The International Longshoremen Association, Local #1303, historically has been integral to the port's development and growth.
The union's "strong work ethic," Daniels said, "will continue to be a centerpiece of how we market the port." Daniels said he is in talks that could result in another West Pier tenant by spring.
ILA president Darius Johnson said members are still waiting for the jobs promised after Hurricane Katrina. Union work dwindled after Katrina and was further reduced when tenant Chiquita departed in late 2014 for the Port of New Orleans. Gulfport's port was left with only two container-cargo tenants the ILA relies on for steady work, Dole Fresh Fruit and Crowley Maritime Corp. ILA workers load and unload those ships weekly.
Johnson said the ILA this year had only 102 members who were able to work enough hours to earn benefits.
ILA workers load and unload McDermott's pipe, but that work has been sporadic as the company puts its operations in place.
"We're the best longshoremen from Maine to Texas that can load and unload these ships," Johnson said. "Everybody's keeping a count of the jobs, and rightfully so. But as union president, I am just looking for jobs that are going to put our union members back to work."