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Port of Mobile receives federal authorization to deepen, widen harbor channel

The historic planned modernization of the Port of Mobile is moving forward.

The Alabama State Port Authority on Monday announced it has received federal authorization to upgrade Mobile Harbor to accommodate larger vessels and improve transit efficiencies at Alabama’s only deep-water seaport.

This comes after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) South Atlantic Division signed the Record of Decision for the Mobile Harbor General Reevaluation Report (GRR) and Integrated Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on Friday.

The proposed harbor improvement project would deepen the existing bar, bay and river channels to 52 feet (15.84m), 50 feet (15.24m) and 50 feet (15.24m), respectively. The project also includes widening the bay channel by 100 feet (328.08m) for three nautical miles to accommodate two-way vessel traffic, expanding the current Post-Panamax sized turning basin and incorporating a minor bend easing in the lower bay channel.

Shoreside, the Alabama State Port Authority and its partner, APM Terminals, have been expanding the terminal to meet year over year growth. A $50 million expansion finished in late 2017, and the following year, another $50 million expansion launched.

In a statement, James K. Lyons, director and chief executive officer for the Port Authority, said, “With completion of the Phase 3 expansion, the port and its partner, APM Terminals, will have nearly $500 million in container intermodal assets to serve our customers. As demand dictates, we’re positioned to respond quickly to further expansion.”

The Phase 3 expansion, when completed in February 2020, will extend the dock to allow for the simultaneous berth of two Post-Panamax sized vessels and bring annual throughput capacity to 650,000 TEUs. The dock extension will leverage operational efficiencies generated by newly constructed yard capacity, applied technology, additional outbound gates and two Super Post-Panamax and two Post-Panamax ship to shore container cranes.

The deepening and widening of the harbor channel has been a long time coming, with the landmark leadership of Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Governor Kay Ivey’s Rebuild Alabama Act paving the way for the necessary funding.

In June 2014, the Port Authority requested that the Corps initiate the necessary studies to achieve justified improvements to support the seaport’s rapid growth in manufacturing, mining, retail/distribution and agribusiness markets.

The resulting Mobile Harbor GRR and SEIS underwent a $7.8 million, comprehensive four-year study to evaluate the benefits and potential impacts of the project. Throughout the study process, the Port Authority and the USACE jointly conducted public scoping meetings, general public meetings in both open house and town hall formats, numerous meetings with cooperating agencies and extensive focus group meetings with seafood interests, commercial fisherman, environmental non-governmental organizations, Dauphin Island property owners and interests and environmental justice communities. In May 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency released the Draft GRR/SEIS for public comment to be considered in the preparation of the Record of Decision.

During the study process, the Port Authority’s container carriers servicing Asia trade lanes added new market options and some have shifted to 7000-8500 TEU class ships.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will next execute a design agreement with the Port Authority to begin the preconstruction, engineering and design phase. Construction on the modifications could begin in late 2020.

The Alabama State Port Authority represents the State of Alabama’s public, deep-water terminals serving general cargo, container, over-dimensional and bulk cargoes supporting over 134,600 jobs and $22.4 billion in economic impact to the Yellowhammer State.

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Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

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