By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT

Now that recovery from the 2005 hurricane season is just about complete, officials from ports around the central Gulf region are busy moving forward with facility enhancements and new agreements to handle burgeoning trade volumes while hoping they will be spared the wrath of major storms this year.

We’ll examine the latest at mid-Gulf ports on a one-by-one basis, starting in Alabama and moving westward through Mississippi and Louisiana:

Alabama State Port Authority

The latest in a host of infrastructure development news at the Alabama State Port Authority came last month, as German industrial conglomerate ThyssenKrupp announced plans to build a $3.7 billion steel mill in Mobile County and the authority approved construction of an $85 million-plus, 80-acre terminal with three gantry cranes to handle steel slabs for it. Completion will coincide with the mill’s early 2010 opening. That word came only two months after Berg Steel Pipe Corp. picked a former International Paper Co. site, owned by the authority, for a new spiral steel pipe manufacturing facility.

The first phase of the new Mobile Container Terminal is slated to open next year, with an initial annual throughput capacity of 150,000 teus, expandable to 800,000 teus at full build-out. The Choctaw Point facility represents a $300 million investment and is a joint venture between APM Terminals North America and CMA-CGM’s Terminal Link division.

A $26 million rail ferry terminal to handle Mexico service has just been completed, while extensive expansion and enhancement continues at the McDuffie Coal Terminal. In addition, the Pier C North property is undergoing an $8 million repaving and strengthening project to expand yard capacity for handling a growing number of steel projects.

Port of Pascagoula

About 10 miles into Mississippi from the Alabama line, the Port of Pascagoula is enjoying strong volumes of lumber and other forest products, buoyed by imports from Germany and exports to the Caribbean and Central America regions, including shipments to the Dominican Republic to serve that island nation’s construction industry. The upswing in handling those goods through the port’s more than 700,000 square feet of transit shed has offset a downturn in poultry exports.

Pascagoula port projects include road resurfacing in both the Bayou Casotte and Pascagoula River harbor areas, as well as demolition of an outdated office building.

Port officials are continuing to seek a joint venture partner for development of a 55-acre waterfront site, with a 38-foot alongside depth, where an obsolete grain elevator was razed in 2003. That Pascagoula River South Terminal site received fencing, lighting and related improvements when Carnival Cruise Lines’ Holiday berthed there to provide housing to displaced coastal residents in the aftermath of August 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. The storm did extensive damage to the port, which has now completely recovered.

Port of Gulfport

The Mississippi State Port Authority’s Port of Gulfport, which was decimated by Hurricane Katrina, continues to get back on track. Last month, the authority unveiled a draft master plan that calls for developments to include an inland port, additional berthing capacity, a state-of-the-industry freezer facility, a maintenance and repair shop with a container freight station, and a new, 106-acre landfill project. A preliminary development budget projects an overall investment of more than $540 million over a 10-year period.

Market forecasts indicate increases in business at the Port of Gulfport, including increases for banana importers Chiquita Brands and Dole Food Co. Inc. and carrier Crowley Maritime Corp., as well as for an as-yet-unidentified potential new tenant. The forecasts point to a more-than-doubling of containerized cargo activity, from 230,498 teus in 2007 to 493,398 teus by 2015. That will require increasing the port’s gross acreage from 66 to 153 acres, including support of the inland port, which w