Port to handle DuPont's ore for a time

GULFPORT - The state port at Gulfport will enter into a 39-month agreement with DuPont for its ore-handling business, giving the company an interim fix while long-term solutions are sought.

The port's small footprint makes its real-estate utilization decisions vital, which also will affect discussions with the Coast Guard for possible relocation of its Gulfport station from the city's small-craft harbor to the commercial port. Mayor Brent Warr asked the port to discuss the matter with the Coast Guard, and State Port Authority commissioners agreed to do so.

The State Port Authority voted to enter the agreement with DuPont, which gives the chemical giant three months to repair its ilmenite ore-handling facilities knocked out by Katrina and three years to operate them.

DuPont uses the ore to produce titanium dioxide at its DeLisle plant and has used alternative means to transport the ore since Katrina. The ore will now be brought into the port on barges, blended there and shipped over to the plant by rail.

But it doesn't sound as if DuPont will continue to operate in similar fashion down the road.

"I wish strategically we had enough real estate and space to continue what we've been doing for over three decades, handling ilmenite ore," said Don Allee, the port's executive director. "But things have changed and now we have to work together to keep them receiving raw materials."

DuPont said in a press release it remains committed to its DeLisle plant and the titanium-dioxide business.

"We believe that making the Port of Gulfport part of our short- to mid-term port strategy will be beneficial to both the Port and to DuPont now that our business is back to pre-Katrina operating rates," the release said. "At the same time, the temporary nature of this agreement will provide the community with greater flexibility as the long-term vision of the Gulfport waterfront is developed further."

Allee said it's possible the ore may still make its way across the port, but the port has been talking with the Harrison County Development Commission about ideas for relocating the operation.

"I would just say stay tuned," he said.

Warr would like to see the Coast Guard move to the state port to give maximum opportunity for developers to build around the harbor.

He said some have looked at the area and cited the presence of the station as something that might spoil the views many are looking for.

"It would clear the slate for new development," he said. "It's super-prime real estate, probably the most valuable real estate in the state."

Allee said the port has had discussions with the Coast Guard about relocating the station. He said competing security concerns might be one stumbling block.

He said even something as small-sounding as a 3-acre station might have a larger impact on a port that has only about 180 acres.