Ports & Terminals

Public-Private Partnership Plans Redevelopment Of Port Birmingham

By Jay Benedict
Watco Companies

Years of declining demand for coal in the Birmingham, Ala., market led to declining shipments for Port Birmingham. In response, the recently formed Birmingham-Jefferson County Port Authority (BJCPA) and Watco Companies LLC have entered into a public-private partnership (PPP) to revitalize and repurpose the port.

“The idea is to take this old, coal-focused facility and repurpose it into something that is attractive, still to coal, but also to a new commodity base,” said Watco Commercial Manager KR McKenzie.

The current proposal outlines roughly a five-year plan. Phase 1 is currently in development, and includes constructing a 50,000-square-foot warehouse with overhead cranes capable of storing weather-sensitive bulk and break bulk commodities. Future phases will continue to develop the port, making any necessary upgrades to the five barge docks and rail and truck access infrastructure, and create additional storage capacity and industry-specific build outs.

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Eventually, the PPP plans to further develop the port along the Birmingham Terminal Railway.

The 184-acre Port Birmingham has 1.5 miles of frontage on the Black Warrior River, part of the Tenn-Tom Waterway, just a few miles west of Birmingham. It had long-served as a coal and steel hub for the area. As the market changed, it became clear that Port Birmingham needed to change as well.

Watco Companies, based in Pittsburg, Kan., is the parent company of the BHRR. The BHRR is the short line railroad that connects the port to Class I railroads BNSF, CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern. The company also provides transloading and other services at the port. Watco took over operations of both in 2012, and through local partnerships in the area, are making positive changes to Port Birmingham.

“We want to continue to grow our relationship with the BJCPA, and through that, Port Birmingham,” McKenzie said. “This area will see the benefits through job creation and tax revenues, and we’re going end up with a more diversified port location in central Alabama.”

Jay Benedict is digital communication and social media specialist for Watco Companies.