Tuesday, August 7, 2012
GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — A report says the Port of Gulfport faces numerous challenges as it tries to capitalize on $570 million in federal money it was given after Hurricane Katrina.
A strategic marketing plan dated July 30 says the 36-foot channel depth limits the vessels that can use the port. Other challenges include a lack of warehouse space and potential congestion due to nearby rail crossings.
After Katrina, then-Gov. Haley Barbour pitched a "port of the future" with a 50-foot-deep channel to lure ships sailing through the Panama Canal. But money to improve the port does not include dredging a deeper channel.
Port Director Don Allee has said dredging to 50 feet is not practical because the rest of the port is too small to handle the largest ships.
No U.S. port on the Gulf of Mexico currently has a 50-foot channel. New Orleans, Houston and Mobile, Ala., are among those with 45-foot channels. Pascagoula, Miss., has a 42-foot channel. The port's strategy calls for attracting ships displaced from larger ports by supersized container liners that need 50 feet of water.
The Sun Herald reports (http://bit.ly/QbHhJj ) that the plan was presented to Gov. Phil Bryant after he visited there Monday.
"Any big project has challenges, so this is not unusual," Bryant said. Bryant is considering modifying the plans for the port developed under Barbour.
The marketing plan also outlines strengths and opportunities that port officials hope to use to increase the usefulness of the facility. Those strengths include short transit times, proximity to the Mississippi River and area exports in forestry, agriculture and seafood.
Using federal community development block grants to pay for port improvements was controversial, with critics saying the money should instead improve housing on the coast. Such money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development can be used for economic development projects, as long as it creates jobs for low-income and moderate-income residents. Barbour said that was a better use of the money, despite attacks.
Local critics continue to fight the port expansion plan. They say a planned access road from the port to Interstate 10 will hurt a predominantly black part of Gulfport and will ruin environmentally sensitive wetlands. The road, which would take trucks off already-congested U.S. 49, is considered a key to future port growth.