GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — Gov. Phil Bryant says expansion at the Port of Gulfport needs to move forward to avoid the chance of losing $500 million in federal money.
Bryant is worried the $570 million project's unused funds, which aren't being spent quickly as plans for the site have bogged down, could be taken back by Congress. The money comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and it has to be used to create some 1,200s job, 50 percent of which must go to people of low and moderate income, as part of the state's agreement with HUD.
Bryant said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan told him two months ago the port project needs to speed up.
"(Donovan) called two months ago and said 'y'all need to move forward with your construction' because you have $500 million sitting in reserve and Congress has the potential of sweeping that money," Bryant said in a meeting Wednesday with The Sun Herald (http://bit.ly/QqDjU2).
"They look around and ask 'what's Mississippi doing? They have over $500 million they're not using.' Hopefully, we're going to have a more dynamic effort now."
Only about 1,300 are working at the port now, but the state needs to have about 2,600 total employed there to meet the HUD guidelines.
The port authority has abandoned a plan to elevate of the West Pier from 10 feet to 25 feet above sea level — which Bryant opposed. The board meets Nov. 15 to review other plans, including information about bringing the pier to an elevation of 12 feet.
The first phase of that work had already started, but the dirt can be leveled off to help bring the pier to the 12 foot to 15 foot elevation, officials said.
Bryant has his own plan.
It calls for creating the 1,200 additional jobs at the port, maintaining the current tenants at there and having long-term plans to keep them there. He wants to deepen the port channel and try to have 1 million 20-foot long cargo containers come through the port each year. He also wants to focus on bringing in development that isn't related to Port activities to the north harbor and east pier areas of the port property.
"We've got to keep our word," Bryant said. "We've got to hire 1,200 people — half of them are going be low to moderate income. Do it. Don't keep saying that we can't do this, we can do that. Find a way to get around to these goals and move it forward."
Those plans could call for moving some existing tenants to other parts of the port. The governor thinks any issues can be resolved by working with the tenants.
"These guys have been with us 40 years," Bryant said. "The last thing I want to do is mistreat them."