Port of Mobile looks to benefit from dedicated steel-coil-handling facility

By: | at 03:42 PM | Channel(s): Maritime  International Trade  Ports & Terminals  

Steel coil is loaded for export at Pier 7 of the ASPA’s Port of Mobile.
Steel coil is loaded for export at Pier 7
of the ASPA’s Port of Mobile.

As the Port of Mobile gears up to as much as double its already impressive throughput of rolled steel products, the Alabama State Port Authority is engaged in a public-private partnership for development of a dedicated facility for handling steel coil.
“We see the steel, and specifically the steel coil, as being a growing market for us,” James K. Lyons, director and chief executive officer of the Alabama State Port Authority, told the American Journal of Transportation, noting both import and export demands.

“What we want to do is consolidate that all into one place and gain efficiencies,” Lyons added, explaining that rolled steel products currently are handled at five different Port of Mobile piers.

Construction began this fall on the first phase of a $36 million steel-coil-handling facility at Pier D-2 on a 40-foot-deep channel at the ASPA’s main docks complex. It is to be served by oceangoing vessels, barges, trucks and rail. Completion of the initial phase is targeted for fall 2014.

The facility is being built by Alabama Steel Terminal LLC, a joint venture between Mobile-based TriState Maritime Services Inc. and the Houston-headquartered Richardson Group of Companies, and is to be operated under a concession agreement with the state port authority. The joint venture was selected in July via a competitive process.

The first phase is to include 178,200 square feet of covered bay area, equipped with three 50-ton-capacity overhead bridge cranes, and 168,000 square feet of open storage yard. A second phase, which Lyons said will be developed on a “volume-triggered” basis, is to add another 194,400 square feet of bay area with three more overhead cranes.

Lyons said the overhead cranes, similar to those used in factories, should enhance efficiency in handling steel coil while reducing potential damage.

Another benefit of putting this commodity in a single place is that it frees up more space for the Port of Mobile to handle forest products and other breakbulk commodities, Lyons said.

According to Lyons, the Port of Mobile currently handles between 500,000 and 600,000 tons of rolled steel products a year, and he expects that volume to soon reach 1 million or more tons.

Presently, the throughput is about evenly split between imports and exports, but Lyons said he anticipates that export volume will eclipse that of imports. Seven steel producers have facilities within 300 miles of the Port of Mobile, churning out flat-rolled coil, of both stainless and carbon steel varieties, as well as hot-rolled and cold-rolled product.

On the import side, U.S. Southeast automotive plants are demanding more steel, especially cold-rolled coil and, in particular, galvanized product. Already, steel coils from Korea, Germany and Mexico are delivered across ASPA docks to four automaking plants, he said.

Of the new dedicated steel-coil-handling facility at the port, Lyons said, “It’s going to be a big win for us, for our private-sector partners and for our mutual customers.”

The steel facility represents the latest Port of Mobile undertaking via a public-private partnership. Others have included an expanded grain elevator, a facility for handling refrigerated cargo and, most notably, APM Terminals’ Mobile Container Terminal.

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For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Scott Abbott has been writing and shooting images for the American Journal of Transportation, applying four decades of experience as an award-winning journalist. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a master’s magna cum laude from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Abbott has served as president of chapters of the Propeller Club of the United States, Florida Public Relations Association and Society of Professional Journalists. Abbott honed his skills on several daily newspapers, including [em]The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, Albuquerque Journal and (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, and was editor and publisher of The County Line, a weekly newspaper he founded in suburban Richmond, Va.[/em] A native Chicagoan, he is a member of American Mensa and an ever-optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs.