An official with the Port of Mobile talked about the importance of Alabama coal for that facility, noting half of the public docks's business in Mobile involves handling coal.
Judy Adams, vice president of marketing for the Alabama State Port Authority in Mobile, spoke as part of an an hour-long panel discussion Thursday on the state coal industry, sponsored by Yellowhammer News and attended by community, state and coal industry leaders.
Adams said the State Docks - a revenue-based agency - owns and operates a flagship coal handling facility called McDuffy Terminal, insuring Alabama shippers are competitive on a global scale. McDuffy has been a major beneficiary of $1.2 billion in shoreside upgrades made over the past 19 years.
"We have a lot of what I would say local interest here that rely on the port. Coal by far is the biggest in the Port of Mobile. It is the largest commodity group," she said.
She also noted about the recently announced work by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to deepen the seaport to accommodate larger ships, hopefully by 2024 - and with the ability to load 20,000 to 30,000 tons more coal per ship.
"For the first time, we think we will have a competitive edge in the Asian market. We already serve Latin America and Europe. But we are looking toward Asia, and they do consume a lot of coal," Adams said.
For public terminals, coal makes up 50 percent of the State Docks' business, she said. The public docks support almost all state industries, while the private terminals also support the region with petroleum and asphalt, who have also made investments.
A portion of the recently passed state gas tax increase is going for state cost share of the work, which will go 32 miles long to deepen 5 feet, costing about $400 million in federal and state obligations.
"We're one of 15 active projects in the nation," Adams said. "There are 23 active ports that are doing this. We are one of 60 deep portal ports in the nation and we are consistently either in the Top 10 or as low as 11. We are very, very large. And our only mission, in most of our business, is serving Alabama shippers. That is how much we produce in a state."
Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper, who was also part of the panel, said $2 billion of Alabama coal went out of the Port of Mobile last year. He also noted as Alabama has more navigable waterways than any other state, the coal can easily be transported to Mobile and then across the globe.
He also noted the importance to support inland ports (such as Birmingport, which handles coal from West Jefferson) and also rail and trucking transportation.
Reed noted coal can leave Walker County, head down on a barge, then leave the Port of Mobile and sail to Europe for steel production. Then the steel can come back to the Port of Mobile and come back on truck and rail to Vance to be an automotive part in a Mercedes-Benz vehicle - not far where the coal was first generated.
"Here we sit in Walker County, in Jasper, Alabama, and we're talking about big lofty strong global worldwide things," he said. "And it's important."