Ports & Terminals

Alliance Sand Begins Terminal Operations On Tennessee River In North Alabama

Over the past decade, the northern part of Alabama, including the state’s second most populous city of Huntsville, has seen remarkable growth.

Not only has Huntsville in recent years leapfrogged the cities of Montgomery and Mobile in terms of population, the “Rocket City” is also set to surpass even Birmingham soon. In addition, the nearby cities of Madison, Decatur, Athens and Florence all have experienced recent growth, with Athens leading the way with just over 25 percent population growth between 2010 and 2019.

Drivers of that growth include Mazda-Toyota’s manufacturing plant, the United States Army’s Redstone Arsenal and new data centers for both Google and Facebook.

With that growth in population, manufacturing and business near the Tennessee River in north Alabama has come a booming demand for construction materials, and Decatur-based Alliance Sand & Aggregates LLC is seeking to meet that need and, in the process, grow its business to include terminal operations.

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Alliance was formed in 2009 with the merger of North Alabama Sand & Gravel LLC, owned by H.M. Nowlin and Rodney D. Terry, and the aggregate operation of Holland Company Inc., owned by Neal A Holland Jr. Sand and aggregate has always been the company’s core business, anchored by its sand pit in Phil Campbell, Ala. But in 2017, Alliance purchased the former Baker Sand & Gravel site, giving the company a base on the Tennessee River at Mile 336.4, just south of Huntsville. The site offers access for aggregates and other commodities moving in and out of the area on the river.

“It’s an excellent site, and Alliance purchased it to actually get sand from the river side of it,” said Rick Terry, vice president of port operations and development for Alliance Sand & Gravel. “We have already forged relationships to provide a one-stop shop of truck and barge to load barges at Huntsville, with cottonseed being the latest commodity.”

From that strategic point, Alliance decided to find other strategic points along the Tennessee River.

After the Huntsville purchase, Alliance formed terminal agreements with Yellow Creek Port in Iuka, Miss., Gavilon in Decatur, and the Port of Decatur, giving the company several distribution sites along the Tennessee River and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

Alliance announced September 1 the launch of its latest terminal operation in Florence, following the purchase of part of Patriot Rail’s lease at the Port of Florence, located on the Tennessee River west of Huntsville.

Terry said leaders with Alliance are excited about the opportunities and possibilities for the Florence site, which offers connections to other modes of transportation.

“We feel like you have everything there from a transportation standpoint: rail, truck and river,” Terry said. “With those three, in addition to a four-lane highway, you can go to Memphis, and it’s not far from Interstate 65. It’s a very good transportation mix there.”

To bolster its operations at the Port of Florence, Alliance has purchased a Liebherr 984 excavator with an 8-yard bucket.

“It’s one of the largest material handlers on the Tennessee River,” Terry said. “We’re bringing in eight-barge tows, and we’re running around the clock unloading them.”

Terry said that Alliance also operates a Liebherr 954 material handler at its Huntsville site.

In addition, Terry said the company is planning to upgrade a conveyor system at the Florence terminal soon.

The Port of Florence is set to receive a $550,000 grant from the state’s Inland Port Infrastructure Program to dredge its harbor. Terry said that will benefit Alliance’s current terminal operations there, while also potentially allowing for activity across from its facility at a site called “Lot 10.”

“There’s no dock there, but it does have access to the river,” he said. “When that gets dredged and is navigable, we’ll have the opportunity to put a dock there. We’ll be able to unload barges there, which will give us three sites at Florence.”

Alliance has forged a partnership with RMB Marine Services for harbor fleeting services in Florence, Terry said.

“And as Huntsville grows, we’d like to forge a relationship with someone who would set up as a fleeting operator there,” he added. “A river port is the one remaining transportation mode that Huntsville needs, and we would like to provide that for them.”

Terry said he sees great potential for Alliance’s operations at both the Florence and Huntsville terminals as the entire area continues to grow.

“Sand and aggregates are going to be a huge commodity on this river for the next 12 to 15 years,” he said. “North Alabama is a hot spot, no doubt about it. It’s growing.” 

And as the area grows, Alliance will assess further growth opportunities, Terry said, as the company continues to expand its terminal operations.

“We’re growing in the port business, no doubt,” he said.