SLOW PACE: Despite receiving $570 million in federal funds from U.S. Housing and Urban Development, the Port of Gulfport’s expansion won’t be complete until 2016.
By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog
For the Port of Gulfport, it’s five down and 1,295 jobs to go.
According to a memo obtained by Mississippi Watchdog, the port has added five of the 1,300 jobs it needs to create under the terms of a $570 million Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development received after the port was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Under terms of the grant, the port was supposed to retain 1,286 workers and add 1,300 more. Of the new jobs, 51 percent must be for low- or moderate-income people. One of the five jobs, according to the memo, fit this category. Of the 814 presently employed at the port, only one fits the requirements for income status.
“The port is important not only to the people of the coast area, but to all Mississippians,” said state Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Hinds County. “It is and should be a major driver of the state’s economy. The delays in its renovation and reconstruction are very disappointing. The possible penalties for failure to meet the jobs numbers could be disastrous for the whole state.”
HUD warned Mississippi if grant requirements aren’t met it could result in:
- termination of payments to the state
- reduction of payments for present or future Community Development Block Grants to the state by an amount equal to the funds “used without compliance”
- if HUD finds the state has “failed substantially to comply with a provision,” it could refer the matter to the U.S. attorney general to institute a civil action to recover improperly spent money.
“Any penalties for not meeting the job requirements will be determined by HUD,” Brown said. “I trust that the port officials, Mississippi Development Authority folks and the governor are already talking with HUD and trying to work this out. It probably does not help that the jobs reports HUD has received from the port and MDA have been contradictory.”
The port did get some good news this week. The Mississippi State Port Authority is nearing a 13-year lease agreement with Dole Fruit, the port’s biggest client. The extension could last through 2037 if several extension options are taken.
Dole will leave the East Pier, where its facility is located now, and move to the West Pier, where $30 million of the HUD grant will be used to build the company a “state-of-the-art, expanded port terminal.” Construction on the West Pier expansion is expected to be completed by 2016.
DuPont, another one of the port’s biggest clients, received $23 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds and $68 million in loans from the port authority to build a new state-of-the-art ilmenite ore handling facility. Ilmenite is converted to titanium dioxide, a bright white pigment used in paints, plastics and paper.
In 2013, the port was ranked 70th among U.S. ports in total trade, with more than 1.7 million metric tons. Neighboring ports New Orleans (second, 97 million metric tons), Mobile, Ala. (13th, more than 27 million metric tons) and Pascagoula (17th, more than 22 million metric tons) all ranked higher.