‘We’re getting it done’: New port plans announced at chamber banquet

Published 9:50 pm Monday, January 29, 2024

Monday’s annual meeting of the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce brought some big news for both entities it represents, as the chamber’s Executive Director, and President and CEO of the Vicksburg-Warren Economic Development Partnership, Pablo Diaz announced the official location of the new south port project.

Diaz said the announcement was a long time in the making as the need to expand the Warren County Port has been a priority for years and birthed a partnership between the City of Vicksburg, Warren County Board of Supervisors, the port commission, and the Vicksburg-Warren Partnership.

“We are excited to speak today about the south port project,” Diaz said. “Many of you have heard about it. This is a project that has been in the works in the community since 2018 as an idea that originally started as a discussion with (Vicksburg) Mayor (George) Flaggs and kind of took on legs from there. We have done a ton of work and due diligence over the last several years in order to find the best place to take on this project. This is a project that the mayor and the City of Vicksburg, the Warren County Board of Supervisors, Gov. Tate Reeves and even Phil Bryant, before Gov. Tate Reeves, has supported, and the legislature has supported. So, we have all the right people behind this project, and there’s a reason for that. ”

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The new port, which will be located south of Interstate 20 and between the Mississippi River and U.S. Highway 61 South, will be situated on a site Diaz said was a perfect storm of needed infrastructure.

“All of the elements that we need for success are really in place, and Vicksburg can do this,” he said. “We actually closed on the last parcel of land. We had options on this land, but we had not acquired it, and this actually happened in 2023. We’re actually speaking of roughly 1,800 acres that used to belong to 16 different people, and 30 different parcels of land that, with the support of the supervisors and the city, and the Mississippi Development Authority, we were able to acquire over the last 18 months.

“When people ask me, ‘Where is the new port going to be?’ I always tell them, ‘You know where the Tomato Place is?’ Everybody knows where the Tomato Place is. So, behind the Tomato Place, all the way to the river.”

Diaz said it was not only the cooperation, but also the generosity, of the entities involved in the port project that has brought it to where it is today.

“We also secured in 2023 a grant from the Mississippi Development Authority for $4.9 million,” he said. “That grant is going to be utilized to do geotechnical investigations and then engineering design for construction. The (Economic Development Foundation) provided $100,000 to be able to secure options on land that we need. So just like you help this community move forward with your membership in the chamber, those that are members of the EDF allow us, that when we have to do something quick, (Chairman) Ryan (Lee) and the leadership and the rest of the board stepped up because it’s important for this project.”

In 2022, the City of Vicksburg allocated $1 million in reserve funding for the project, just one month after a $1 million pledge from Warren County.

“So, all of this work. All of this money that we are spending is a plan to construct all of that and to be ready to construct all of that soon.”

And Diaz said that construction includes not only the structures that will house the port’s tenants, but also everything from site prep to protection.

“We did a market analysis that actually answered the question, ‘If you build it, will they come?’ And the answer is yes,” he said. “If you build it, they will come.

“We looked at different sites and we went through a process of analyzing the soil, and analyzing the wetlands, and analyzing infrastructure, transportation. Gas and power. Power availability isn’t the same everywhere you go. So, all of these components came into play for us to actually give the nod for the right and best site for this to be done.”

Diaz also praised the work of the Vicksburg Army Corps of Engineers for its continued part in the permitting process.

“If you see them, just thank them for what they do, because we really have been amazed by the way they have handled this project.”

Diaz said steps are still being taken toward finalizing geotechnical details and handling wetland remediation and construction, but added the new port location’s potential is a huge boon for both Vicksburg and Warren County.

“When we are done with this, we will have a mega-site,” he said. “This community will have a site that is over 1,000 acres, protected by a levy, and on the Mississippi River; served by a Class 1 railroad, with access to a four-lane U.S. highway that, three miles off the road, connects to an interstate; with lots of power and with lots and lots of gas; lots and lots of water, and sewage capabilities, and fiber-optics. I mean. It is a real good site.”

While Diaz did not specify any planned dates for either a beginning or end to construction, he said he is confident in what the end result will be.

“No other place in Mississippi is going to be able to replicate this site, because no one else is trying. But, we’re trying, and we’re getting it done.”