MOBILE, Ala. -- Does Mobile have the assets necessary to become a world-class container port and intermodal transfer center? A new strategic development study says yes.
The study, conducted by the engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol, concluded that the Alabama State Docks could become a world-class port because it had the following six attributes:
- Easy access to the Gulf of Mexico through a deep-water channel.
- The best near-port rail connections in the Mid-Gulf Region.
- Port to interstate highway connections.
- Available land for development.
- Excellent water connections.
- Strong community support.
The study concluded that the Choctaw Point site near the mouth of the Mobile River is the preferred location for container development, but that facilities at the current site should be improved to better handle containers. The report also stated that value-added components must accompany the terminal development, the port should protect existing revenue streams in its traditional business, and the port will need to increase storage and berth capacity for future traditional cargoes.
In an effort to answer the question, "Why Mobile?," the study suggested that Mobile offers competitive internal transportation costs when compared to major markets. Mobile also has excellent rail, air and highway connections, as well as a deep-water site ready for development.
The study comes at a time when the McDuffie Coal Terminals at the State Docks are experiencing solid growth. For the first time since the coal terminals began operations in 1975, they topped the 10 million-ton mark in a single fiscal year. Major coal shippers that use McDuffie are Jim Walter, U.S. Steel Mining, Drummond Coal Sales, Hodder and Pacificorp Syn Fuels.
"We are particularly pleased with the increase in exports over last year's low figures," says Alabama State Docks Director and CEO James K. Lyons. "Our major exporters have been very aggressive in this market and have regained ground lost in the last couple of years."
Lyons adds that productivity and capacity at the terminal will increase with the purchase of an additional crane scheduled for delivery in the third quarter of this year. The crane is being rebuilt by ZPMC in Shanghai.
State support for expansion of the docks was affirmed in November by passage of Amendment 1, which authorizes $100 million in bond funding for port expansion. Other funds will come from public/private partnerships and from the port's reserve revenues.
The strategic development study suggests that the first five-year program of the plan would generate 5,700 jobs and $228 million in direct benefits to the Alabama economy. The estimated cost of the first five years of the plan is $302 million.
"It is essential that we bring the value-added part of the program into fruition," says Lyons. "It is a bit like bringing the chicken and the egg up at the same time. The recruitment of additional industries and partners will have a joint effect of improving economic development throughout the state when combined with the docks' improvements.
"This will come about through close work with regional and local public-sector agencies seeking new development for Alabama," he adds. "This will be an integral part of the entire program." -- Ron Starner