How significant is the Port of Mobile to the average citizen statewide?
Since the beginning of statehood in 1819, Alabama has been blessed with one deepwater seaport: the Port of Mobile. Our port is invaluable to our agribusiness industry statewide making our commodities easily accessible internationally. Without a doubt, the facilities of our port were key in attracting the auto manufacturing industries of Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai and now Toyota. Because of Mobile, Alabama steel from U.S. Steel and O’Neal Steel now play a major role in international steel markets. Georgia-Pacific as well as Yellowood can attribute much of their volume of forest products to international sales shipped through Mobile.
When the state legislature passed the recent Amendment 354, aka the gas tax bill, a provision was included to fund Port of Mobile improvements up to $12 million per year. Supporters say this expenditure is vitally necessary to upgrade and modernize the port by dredging and widening the shipping channel to accommodate today’s modern shipping vessels.
Yet, a private citizen from the Florence area, Tom Fredericks, says that he is in the process of filing suit against the governor to halt the expenditure of any bill funds for Port of Mobile improvements. Fredrick insists the stated purpose of the bill is “road and bridge improvement and repair” and cannot be used for the Port of Mobile.
Legislative supporters point to Section 24 of the Alabama Constitution that designates navigable waterways and port facilities as “highways.” Will Fredericks prevail and stop the state plan for bill money? It is highly unlikely since Fredericks is a former unsuccessful office seeker and could possibly be simply pursuing a frivolous issue for future political reasons.
Personally, I feel the state improvements to the Port of Mobile and its impact statewide of 134,608 direct and indirect jobs and a total economic impact of $486.9 million without question justifies the expenditure. We simply must do whatever is necessary to maintain our gateway to international markets and not let the rest of the world pass us by.
James W. Anderson