The Port Of Gulfport recently jumped a major hurdle, allowing it to potentially bring more jobs to the Gulf Coast. The obstacle took seven years to cross but construction is now just months away, according to Port officials.

That hindrance was an expansion permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The permit finally granted by the Corps will allow the Port to expand its current footprint by 200 acres.

According to Jonathan Daniels, Executive Director and CEO for Mississippi State Port Authority, the Port of Gulfport had leased all available land at the Port and found itself in need of more space.

“In order for us to expand into an area that had not been disturbed in the past, we needed to do a full Environmental Impact Statement, “ Daniels explained. “It’s a long, drawn-out process where you take a look at samples of just about everything to make sure there’s no contamination.”

Daniels said another stum-bling block surfaced in the process after there was a change in leadership at the EPA.

“We had everything done and even though the (EPA’s) lead scientists, had blessed all of our results, the EPA wanted to do it all over again.”

During the process of ensur-ing water and air quality, Daniels said that the Port of Gulf-port underwent an $800,000 study on sturgeon to make sure that fish population would not be impacted by the expansion.

“It’s not only looking at the environmental impact, it’s looking at the impact of marine life and air quality and making sure that impact is acceptable under federal standards.”

Daniels explained that there are still factors to be determined before the expansion can officially begin, including funding and figuring out whether to expand in phases or all at once.

“It’s a long term project but because of the direction we’re going with a lot of our activity, we’re looking to expand sooner rather than later. But we need to do final engineering on the site itself.”

Since his arrival in April 2103, Daniels said that the Port has evolved from a shipping and cargo operation to a conversion port, where raw materials are being produced into finished products. The Port of Gulfport is now home to eleven tenants, including: Chemours, Chiquita, Crowley, Dole, McDermott International, SeaOne, Topship, and the University of Southern Mississippi.

“We were that Banana Port on the Coast of Mississippi, which is still a cornerstone of what we do. We are the Nation’s second largest green fruit import facility, But you look at the diversification now,” said the Port Director, he then added.

“Throw in there, the fact that we are one of seventeen strategic ports in the U.S. to be able to handle military cargo, and this port now becomes as diverse as any large scale facility you see anywhere in the United States. So we’re extremely proud of what we’ve been able to do.”

Daniels is confident that a final site expansion engineering design will be complete within the year.

That, he says, will open the doors to more employment opportunities for Gulf Coast residents as the project gets off the ground.
The estimated cost of the expansion project is three-quarters of a billion dollars.

Story by Kristin Pacheco