Gulfport cancels study of deeper channel

Gulfport cancels study of deeper channel

The Port of Gulfport, Mississippi, has encountered a setback to its hopes of dredging a channel large enough to match the port’s growth ambitions.

Gulfport officials withdrew their request that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study enlarging of the port’s 36-foot-deep channel to as much as 47 feet and widening it by about 100 feet.

A larger channel is viewed as essential to the port’s expansion program, which includes recent orders for three post-Panamax cranes that are larger than needed by any ship currently serving the port.

The port had asked the corps to include the channel deepening and widening as part of a corps environmental review of Gulfport’s plans to fill in 200 acres and enlarge a turning basin.

But because Congress hasn’t authorized a larger channel, the state-owned port would have had to pay the full cost of the channel study, the initial deepening and widening, and future maintenance dredging, said Pat Robbins, spokesman for the corps district office in Mobile, Alabama.

Robbins said Gulfport could still secure a deeper channel by following the standard process that begins with congressional approval of a corps study that weighs costs and benefits and determines whether the project is in the federal interest.

A favorable report would clear the way for Congress to provide federal funding under a cost-sharing formula with the project’s local sponsor. “We build what Congress directs us to build,” Robbins told JOC.com.

Congressional authorization and funding of a project like Gulfport’s typically takes a decade or more. Some ports are still awaiting funding of projects that won federal authorization more than a half-century ago.

Gulfport officials are anxious for a deeper and wider channel to accommodate larger ships that will transit the larger Panama Canal locks scheduled to open next year.

When the port was preparing last year to order its post-Panamax cranes, Port Director Jonathan Edwards told JOC.com the cranes were “right-sized for the type of operation that Gulfport will be in the near cuture and certainly down the line.” He noted that the cranes  also could be used for uncontainerized cargo and said their long reach provided versatility.

Gulfport is continuing a $570 million expansion and rebuilding a decade after Hurricane Katrina flattened the port with a 24-foot storm surge on Aug. 27, 2005. Federal regulations require the port to create 1,300 jobs as a result of the relief funding.

Last year, Chiquita transferred its banana imports to New Orleans, 70 miles west. Chiquita had provided 30 percent of Gulfport’s TEU volume. Gulfport’s remaining liner operators are Crowley Liner Services and Dole Fresh Fruit, which this year signed a new long-term lease.

Contact Joseph Bonney at joseph.bonney@ihs.com and follow him on Twitter: @JosephBonney.