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City, engineering firm begin process of narrowing down sites for new port

Vicksburg officials have approved a $45,000 contract with Neel-Schaffer Engineering to handle the first phase of the proposed port development project.

The port oversight committee recommended in early October the city begin negotiations with Neel-Schaffer for Phase I, which will help the committee determine the location for a proposed new port for Vicksburg.

Neel-Schaffer, which has offices in Jackson and Vicksburg, was one of six engineering firms submitting qualifications for the project to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Oct. 5. Also submitting qualifications were Allen & Hoshall, Jackson; Waggoner Engineering with offices in Jackson and Vicksburg; Jacobs Engineering Group, Atlanta, Ga.; Jordan, Kaiser, and Sessions, Natchez; and Simpkins & Costelli, Consulting Engineers Inc., Gulfport.

The qualifications were collected by Pablo Diaz, Vicksburg Warren Economic Development Partnership president and CEO, and presented them to the oversight committee of local officials and business leaders.

Jacobs Engineering Group presently has a contract for the port project. The board in June signed a contract not to exceed $240,000 to help the city negotiate the process to begin the feasibility study for the proposed port.

The company is the main consultant on the project, working with the oversight committee of Diaz, Warren County Board of Supervisors President Dr. Jeff Holland, Patrick Smith, Austin Golding and Tray Hardaway.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said the board accepted the qualifications because the state funds for the port were given to the city.

“We’re the conduit for money so we have to approve any expenditures,” he said.

Flaggs said the selected firm will work with Partnership officials to narrow down the number of sites to determine the port’s possible location.

“We’re going to be doing some benchmarking of several areas where development could happen,” Diaz said. “We need some initial cost estimates.”

Diaz declined to identify specific sites under consideration, saying once the number of sites is narrowed down, the Partnership may be able to give more information.

He said, however, the Partnership is looking at areas “close to the existing port and south of I-20. Those are the two general areas.”

A new port for Vicksburg has been discussed for several years but began gaining traction in 2018 when Flaggs mentioned a new port as part of a proposed $55 million capital improvements program funded by a one-cent sales tax.

The Legislature in 2018 during a special session allocated $1 million in Deepwater Horizon oil spill money to the project.

The Port of Vicksburg is the 15th largest inland port in the country based on millions of tons according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data. According to the Partnership, the port supports 21 industries that employs 4,000 people. 

In July, Seabury Marine LLC, a company hired by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, published a Port of Vicksburg Market Analysis that gave a snapshot of what markets and businesses could be attracted by expanded port operations.

The report shows that the expansion of services in Vicksburg, whether through expansion at the current port or construction of a new port working in combination with existing facilities, has the potential to bring in millions of dollars in new investment and create hundreds of new jobs.

The report, which is more than 100 pages in length, was first submitted to the oversight committee and details the methods the firm used to identify six top market opportunities that “could account for at least 600 jobs and investments in the hundreds of millions of dollars if fully realized.”

Diaz said once the site is selected the development of a master plan would begin. It would be done hand-in-hand with potential industries in mind to reduce the risk for those looking to locate at the site, he said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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