On Thursday, they met in Tupelo with economic developers, shipping companies, barge operators and other businesses to make their pitch.
“We want people to be aware that we have facilities in place from Mobile to Fulton to handle containers on barges,” said Bruce Windham, the director of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Authority. “We want them to take a look at it.”
Port officials say they’re only going after a small portion of the volume of containers loaded and unloaded everyday. Companies often have their cargo unloaded on the West Coast and Memphis and have it shipped by highway or rail across the country.
But Mobile has seen its business grow some 30 percent in the past few years, and ports farther north along the Tenn-Tom have the capability to help with container traffic. Companies in Northeast Mississippi could cut their transportation and shipping costs by diverting some of their containers through ports along the waterway.
“We can handle 18,000 containers a year, no problem,” said Port Itawamba Director Greg Deakle.
Using waterways rather than road or railways brings other advantages. Taking containers off the roads also lessens congestion and reduces road maintenance costs.
“We’re not trying to compete with the railroad and the highway system as much as we’re trying to complement them,” Windham said. “Every dollar saved goes to the bottom line.”
B.J. Canup, president of Tremont Floral, ships artificial flowers from across the world and delivers them to retailers across the country. He said using the ports to ship more goods would lower his costs.
“I’ve done the math,” he said.
Truck costs, he said, would make the same profit, but would see lower overhead for fuel, truck and driver expenses.
A federal grant of nearly $1.7 million was given to Port Itawamba to be used to buy equipment such as barges, tug boats, trucks, chassis, etc., to support the proposed service between Mobile and Fulton.
Officials hope to begin the service by May.
Scott Davies with the U.S. Maritime Administration said the goal is to “build a network of freight movement.”