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5 months ago

Alabama’s coal industry continues to fuel the expanding Port of Mobile

MOBILE – With the news breaking Monday that Alabama’s entire congressional delegation supports the proposed modernization and expansion – including major deepening and widening – of the Port of Mobile, I am once again left in awe at what the Port – and its success – means for the entire state.

It was a surprisingly cool summer day when I visited the Port in August, a steady breeze off the water making the normally blanket-like heat quite bearable. I was there on a tour organized by the Alabama Coal Association, with its President Patrick Cagle leading the charge.

We all shuttled in on a small transit bus, like you would find at a hotel, to the McDuffie Coal Terminal and proceeded into a small metal-sided office building for a quick briefing from the Port’s Deputy Director, Smitty Thorne, who is a longtime public servant set to retire in February.

I went into their conference room thinking I knew how important the Port was to the state and that the coal industry played a large role in that, but the facts and figures that the Port staff shared were staggering nonetheless.
First, let me just get this out of the way – the Port does not take a dime from the state budget, i.e. the General Fund. It is completely self-sufficient, generating around $160 million in annual revenue that is pumped back into continual improvements of the Port.

And the continual improvement is paying off – Alabama’s Port is the fastest growing container port in North America, at a 20 percent growth rate this year. It is now the 10th largest port between the U.S., Canada and Mexico and the second and third largest steel and coal ports respectively. The Port of Mobile also finds itself a major mover of automotive parts and breakbulk forest products.

They are constantly innovating, too. We are talking real-time tracking of individual slabs of steel with RFID chips, with them handling 3.3 million tons of slabs annually; a state-of-the-art “AutoMobile International” roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) facility that will boost automotive exports considerably when it is completed in late 2019 or early 2020; a world-class transportation network to and from the Port, including five national (Class 1) railroads, three short line railroads and easy access to both I-65 and I-10; and now the proposed plan for deepening and widening.

The Port handled a massive number of vessels in fiscal year 2017 – 1623 to be exact – and is responsible for an irreplaceable 134,608 direct and indirect jobs. That number equals a staggering 15.08 percent of Alabama’s total wage and salaried employees.

This also leads to more huge top-line numbers, including the Port’s annual economic impact of $22.4 billion and their yearly generated tax revenue of $486.9 million.

Now, let me preface this again. I knew, probably more than most, that coal played a huge part in the Port’s business. I have been to an Alabama surface mine and greatly appreciate the tremendous economic impact the coal industry has on the Yellowhammer State. But I learned something new in a big way.

Coal accounts for fifty percent – yes, half – of the Port’s total business.

Needless to say, the “War on Coal” was a huge hit to the Port and to Alabama. For example, once serving seven steam (energy-producing) coal plants, the Port now only serves two.

(Sean Ross/YHN)

But there has been an improvement after President Obama left office, with conditions and optimism considerably and rightfully higher in the industry. The Port even saw a nine percent volume increase in coal transit last year.

For the Port, a large part of their recent boon has been the emergence of Warrior Met Coal – now the Port’s single biggest customer by far.

Warrior Met mines metallurgical (met) coal used to produce coke, which is pivotal in steelmaking and has been on a tear since it bought the high-quality mines left untapped by Walter Energy’s 2016 bankruptcy.

Trading on the New York Stock Exchange (HCC), the Alabama company is excited about the good market outlook for met coal exporting, which also spells more good news for the Port. Of the 14 million tons of coal mined in the state last year, Warrior Met accounted for 7.5 million – well over fifty percent.

At the end of the briefing, Deputy Director Thorne said that the surging economic conditions, for the Port especially led by strong outlooks for the Alabama met coal and steel industries, meant that they anticipated 2018 to show another year of double-digit percentage growth.

It was on that note of optimism that we embarked from the unassuming office to tour the McDuffie Coal Terminal itself.

Stepping outside the narrow office doors, you look around and can not help but see coal and containers. They each rise high – cities of containers, plateaus of coal towering as far as the eye can wander.

We got back on the shuttle bus, headed eventually to hop aboard a tugboat. On the first attempt to get there, we ran into a train stopped on an intersection we needed to get to. The driver of the Great Southern Wood truck in front of us might not have been too pleased, but the train being at a standstill was actually a good thing, a sign of the rising economic tide, as it had stopped to take double its normal load due to an uptick in business.

We turned around and circled to the other side of McDuffie. As I first noticed when we had arrived, there were puddles everywhere – which was strange since it had not rained that day or the day previous. But it finally struck me as we drove by a sign that read “15 mph … think dust.” The Port is so dusty – think thousands of acres of dirt – that they have to water the barren ground just to stop it from kicking up into workers’ and drivers’ faces.

It was explained to us shortly after that the Port uses their own drainage water on the roads and shoulders to control the dust – another simple but cost-saving innovation.

When we arrived at the Parker Towing vessel to go out on the water, I could feel the teeming energy of the place building – the train cars rumbling, the salt air blowing softly and the peaceful ebb of the water making the buzzing optimism of the place come alive. Everything about the place was striking – even the simple contrast of little white birds flittering about on the jet-black masses of coal.

We boarded after a safety lesson and donning vests, out onto the water to see where the hard work happens. It was a confluence of characters, all who make the Port’s success possible, that made the tour so meaningful.

Besides the ever-so-important and equally under-appreciated Port employees, you had the Parker Towing employees, who are top-notch operators of barges and waterway freight up and down Alabama’s waterways; Warrior Met employees, many of whom have been in the coal industry for a lifetime and came over from Walter Energy or other companies that did not survive the Obama Administration; Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington, who is helping lead Gov. Ivey’s historic employment successes; and public officials, including incoming state legislators Chris Elliot and Shane Stringer and Rep. David Sessions, who will be transitioning into the state Senate this coming term.

The Port is the lifeblood of Alabama, and the coal industry is largely the driver of this status – again, think fifty percent of the Port’s business. To experience first-hand what goes into making this possible was rewarding. But to see Alabama’s congressional delegation cross the normal partisan lines this week to ensure the Port’s future competitiveness was historic.

As Sen. Richard Shelby said, “This project will create an avenue for exponential growth.”

As the proposed plan for its expansion moves forward in the approval process, remember the real impact the Port has. Not only the dollars and cents, but the people – again, 134,608 jobs. If you take into account the average Alabama household size, this equates to over 340,000 people that rely on the Port of Mobile for their livelihood.

Without the coal industry, this number would not be nearly as large. So, when you hear a politician say that only a handful of counties have mines and are affected by the industry, just know the real facts.

From Sand Mountain through the Birmingham metro area even into the Black Belt and down to the Gulf Coast, coal is still king in Alabama.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

29 mins ago

Dothan City Schools to eliminate up to 70 jobs

An Alabama school system says it may eliminate nearly 70 jobs after decisions to close some schools in an effort to save money.

The Dothan Eagle reported Dothan City Schools expects to cut at least 47 staff members as part of the efforts.

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Superintendent Phyllis Edwards said the decision to close four schools means there are fewer support positions needed.

The types of positions being eliminated include clerical assistants, secretaries, nurses, education aides and the child nutrition program staff.

Several other staffers may be switched to teaching positions. There are no plans to lay off current teachers.

Edwards says she will make a formal recommendation on the layoffs and transfers next month or in April.

She said the school system could save about $3 million with the cuts.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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1 hour ago

Alabama prep star Maori Davenport drops suit against AHSAA

An Alabama high school basketball star who had been ruled ineligible dropped a lawsuit against the Alabama High School Athletic Association shortly after her senior season ended.

Pike County Circuit Judge Sonny Reagan dismissed the suit Wednesday at the request of Maori Davenport’s mother, Tara.

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The Charles Henderson star had sued the AHSAA and director Steve Savarese after she was ruled ineligible for accepting a payment from USA Basketball.

She played for Team USA last summer and received an $857.20 stipend, which was repaid.

The judge ordered Davenport’s temporary reinstatement and the case was twice delayed, meaning the Rutgers signee was able to play the season’s final five weeks.

Charles Henderson was eliminated Wednesday at the Class 5A state regional.

Jim Williams, an attorney representing the AHSAA, says his side did not have a chance to file an objection and “we did not consent to the dismissal.”
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

 

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2 hours ago

7 Things: Mueller probe could be over, Byrne officially the first Republican in 2020 U.S. Senate race, Alabama law forces government to give newspapers money and more …

7. Hate crime hoaxer has been arrested and charged with “filing a false police report

— Reports out of Chicago don’t look good for “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett as a grand jury has returned a felony indictment for what the Cook County district attorney believes was a fabricated hate crime to garner publicity. This is not the first time Smollett lied to the police. He pleaded no contest to providing false information to law enforcement after giving police a fake name in a 2017 DUI arrest.

6. Obama era regulations close a power plant; Alabama Power says employees will get new jobs

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— Alabama Power Company announced the Gorgas Steam Plant in Walker County will shut down, because of mandates put in place by President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on April 15. Alabama Power has said all Plant Gorgas employees will keep their jobs and be transferred to other facilities. Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-4) called this an obvious outcome of the “War on Coal.” He stated, “This is just another example of the ‘War on Coal’ that was prevalent during the Obama Administration and how it deeply impacts rural communities with little concern for those who are hurt.”

5. The State Department says ISIS bride can’t come home to Alabama

— A former Hoover resident and thrice married ISIS bride has been informed that the United States would not welcome her back to the United States. President Donald Trump pushed for that decision and tweeted, “I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made it clear she won’t be welcomed. “Ms. [Muthana] is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the U.S. She does not have any legal basis, no valid passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the U.S.,” Pompeo said.

4. White nationalist arrested with an arsenal and a hit list of Democrat politicians and journalists

— Christopher Paul Hasson, a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant, called for “focused violence” and was planning a mass terrorist attack to kill “almost every last person on earth” and “establish a white homeland.” His targets included MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, Sen. Dick Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). He also had 15 firearms and 1,000 rounds of ammunition. In court filings, the government said bluntly, “The defendant is a domestic terrorist.”

3. Alabama state law requires advertising in the local newspaper for various state and local entities, this means revenue for papers like the Democrat-Reporter

— A local newspaper embroiled in a racism controversy has benefitted for years from an Alabama law that predates the Internet and guarantees revenue for local newspapers. The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) alone spent over $4,000 last year alone. This is only one agency of the state government and one small-town newspaper. It doesn’t factor in other government entities in the area that are required to do business with the newspaper. These laws represent millions of dollars for newspapers guaranteed by archaic state law.

2. It’s official: Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile) is running for United State Senate

— Byrne announced his run at a Wintzell’s seafood restaurant in Mobile. Byrne referred to his potential future opponent U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) by criticizing his “radical policies.” Byrne also laid out the fight ahead, saying, “The fight for America’s future is too important to sit on the sidelines. I am running for the United States Senate to defend the values important to Alabama.” Jones responded to the news by hammering Byrne. “Given the results of his losing bid for Governor in 2010, in which he did not even win the Republican nomination, it’s hard to see why they would nominate a career politician like Bradley Byrne now,” Jones stated.

1. After almost two years, the Robert Mueller probe is coming to an end

— Attorney General Bill Barr could be ready to announce the end of FBI special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and could submit a final report to Congress soon as well. These are the most obvious indications that the investigation is almost over. While it is unclear how much of the report will be made public, Barr has made it clear he plans to be “transparent” with Congress and the American people.

16 hours ago

Byrne first to officially declare run vs. Doug Jones – ‘Future is too important to sit on the sidelines’

Just down the street from where he grew up, Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) announced Wednesday evening his candidacy for the United States Senate while surrounded by family, friends and supporters gathered at Wintzell’s Oyster House in beautiful downtown Mobile.

Byrne became the first candidate to officially announce a run against the incumbent from Mountain Brook, Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL). In doing so, Byrne made clear his campaign will focus on his record as a fighter for Alabama’s values, drawing a clear and direct contrast between his traditional Yellowhammer State roots and the “radical policies” being pushed by Jones’ Democratic Party.

In his announcement speech, Byrne emphasized, “The fight for America’s future is too important to sit on the sidelines. I am running for the United States Senate to defend the values important to Alabama.”

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The congressman spoke about the “disconnect” between hardworking, everyday Alabamians and people stuck in the bubble of Washington, D.C.

Byrne urged attendees, “Look in Washington and tell me you don’t see people that have a vision that’s fundamentally at odds with what America is.”

“We need a Senator who will fight with President Trump to defend the Constitution, build the wall, stand up for the unborn, push for lower taxes, make health care more affordable and protect the Second Amendment,” he outlined. “I will fight every day to bring Alabama’s conservative values to Washington.”

Answering questions from reporters following the announcement, Byrne decried the Democratic Party’s embrace of socialism and “[killing] babies as they’re delivered.”

He also warned voters that Democrats should be expected to try and interfere in the Republican primary through “fake news” and  manipulative social media efforts. This comes in the wake of revelations that “Project Birmingham” was orchestrated to aid Jones’ general election candidacy in 2017.

Byrne, a labor-employment attorney by trade, is the former chancellor of the state’s community college system and one-term member of the state senate. He has served southwest Alabama in Congress since January 2014.

The Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Alabama will be held March 3, 2020, with the general election to follow in November.

You can watch Byrne’s announcement speech and hear him answer questions from reporters afterwards here.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

17 hours ago

Watch live: Bradley Byrne announces U.S. Senate run against Doug Jones

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) is set to announce his candidacy for the United States Senate seat held by Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) live at the Wintzell’s Oyster House in downtown Mobile.

Watch live below:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

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