Business

Why green light for expansion at the port is ‘crucial’ for the Coast economy

David Palmer and Michael Parker paint parking space stripes at the State Port at Gulfport, where work has been underway since 2008 on an expanded West Pier. The port is already planning future expansion just approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
David Palmer and Michael Parker paint parking space stripes at the State Port at Gulfport, where work has been underway since 2008 on an expanded West Pier. The port is already planning future expansion just approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Sun Herald file

After six years of study, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved future expansion at the state Port at Gulfport, which port officials say is crucial for luring new business.

“The Port of Gulfport is a major economic driver for Harrison County and the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast,” Gov. Phil Bryant said in a news release the port sent out. “The approval of the Environmental Impact Statement marks a significant step toward the port’s goal of becoming the port of the future by opening more doors for continued growth, investment and job creation, all of which will benefit the economy for generations to come.”

Corps approval will allow the port to dredge and fill about 282 acres in the Mississippi Sound, expanding the East and West piers and North Harbor, and creating a breakwater system 4,000 feet long.

During the six-year process, community groups have questioned whether the potential number of jobs would justify the project’s impact on traffic, air quality and quality of life, particularly in minority communities around the railroad tracks and U.S. 49, a primary route for truck traffic.

The port is still trying to complete a Hurricane Katrina restoration and expansion project on the West Pier that the Corps approved in 1998.

A new roadway to serve the port and handle truck traffic, the proposed north-south connector road to Interstate 10, is still in limbo. Officials at the Mississippi Department of Transportation have said they were waiting on the Corps’ environmental impact study to be completed.

The port’s Corps-approved plans do not include a deeper ship channel. The ship channel at the state port is approved for a depth of 36 feet, while ports in New Orleans, Pascagoula and Mobile have deeper channels.

Newer cargo vessels require deeper channels, but the port has in recent years focused on expanding into the oil and gas industry and other ventures. Also, the port officials say they still intend to request channel deepening.

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

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