Port Authority tells lawmakers it’s not moving to casinos

Published 11:15 pm Saturday, March 3, 2007

The president of the State Port Authority at Gulfport has told lawmakers the facility will not abandon shipping operations to bring in casinos and cruise ships.

“We are not forcing any maritime out,” authority President Lenny Sawyer told members of the House Ports Committee on Thursday.

Committee chairman Billy Broomfield, D-Moss Point, has been trying to find out why Hurricane Katrina recovery of chicken exports and other operations at the port is taking so long, leaving hundreds of dock workers unemployed.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Broomfield and others have said they suspect there is a movement afoot to use Katrina’s damage to press for a change from a large shipping port to a more recreational one.

There has been debate for years over which direction the port, the third-largest container port in the Gulf of Mexico, should take.

Port Director Donald Allee said of the port’s 184 acres, only about 15 acres are now used for casino-related purposes. A new master plan for the port, expected to be out within a month or so, will continue to focus heavily on shipping.

One reason poultry exports have not resumed, Port Authority members said, is the port’s freezer facilities before Katrina were outdated and the port was losing business as a result.

They said they want to make sure poultry shipping is a viable option for the port before the port invests in expensive new freezers.

Port Authority member John Rester said 55 percent of the port’s revenue came from non-maritime type sources.

“And there has never been one penny of taxpayers’ money spent on anything at the port that was not maritime-related,” Rester said.