Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway Association Annual Meeting Set For May 18–20

The Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway Association (WTWA) will hold its 72nd annual meeting May 18–20 at the Grand Hotel Marriott in Point Clear, Ala. The yearly gathering of operators, managers and stakeholders of the waterway will feature reports from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, National Weather Service, economic and port development leaders and more. Attendees will also hear from Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.

The meeting comes during an exciting time for the waterway, with about $400,000 recently allocated in the Corps’ fiscal year 2022 operations and maintenance budget to begin studying deepening both the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway (BWT) and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (Tenn-Tom) to 12 feet.

Wynne Fuller, president of the association, was just in Washington, D.C., speaking with legislators about the waterway and the deepening study, which he said could prove more challenging than the average channel deepening project.

“I think the real challenge is going to be the locks,” Fuller said. “I know Coffeeville and Demopolis have a minus-13 miter seal. If you’re taking the project to a 12-foot draft, that only leaves you a 1-foot cushion or safety factor there, so that’s something they’ll have to look at very carefully, I think.”

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 There’s also port and terminal development work at both ends of the waterway, including an enormous deepening project for the Mobile Harbor. Fuller said that adequate funding to maintain the waterway and the deepening project in Mobile Harbor will continue to make the BWT a competitive waterway for moving cargoes to market.

“We’re seeing that the project is generously funded in 2022—probably one of the highest budgets they’ve ever had,” he said. “That will allow, for example, the replacement of the lower miter gates at Coffeeville and Demopolis. Those gates are 60 years old or older. They’ve cycled through lockages thousands and thousands of times.

“Overall, looking at things strategically,” Fuller later added, “once the Mobile Ship Channel is deepened to a 50-foot draft, that will make it much more efficient to move bulk cargoes like coal out of the Port of Mobile. Therefore, shipping from Mobile will become more competitive, which is going to drive more demand for Alabama coal and shipping on the waterway itself.”

Those topics and more will be covered in the reports to be given at WTWA’s annual conference.

The conference will begin with a golf tournament at Lakewood Golf Club the afternoon of May 18, followed by an evening reception at the Grand Hotel.

“We’ll follow that Thursday morning with a short users and operators meeting,” said Fuller, who described that meeting as an opportunity “for users and shippers to discuss informally with the Corps of Engineers any issues they might have, and for the Corps to talk about any potential disruptions in service for maintenance, which I don’t believe there will be any this year.”

The formal meeting will begin shortly thereafter with reports from Corps officials to include Nelson Sanchez, chief of operations for the Mobile District; Anthony Perkins, operations project manager for the BWT; and Justin Murphree, operations project manager of the Tenn-Tom. Then, Jeremy LaDart, the Mobile District’s chief of the planning and environmental division, will outline the plan for the deepening study.

Following the Corps presentations, Capt. LaDonn Allen, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Mobile, will speak to the group. Cmdr. Daniel Kilcullen and Lt. Andy Anderson, chief of waterways for Sector Mobile, will also speak.

The afternoon of May 19 will feature presentations from Ken Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, and John Driscoll, director and CEO of the Alabama Port Authority. Patrick Cagle, president of the Alabama Mining Association, will also speak to the group, along with representatives from the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The day will end on a high note with Ivey addressing conference attendees.

Fuller said the banquet the evening of May 19 will feature speakers Lou Vickery, an Alabama native and former coach of the Cincinnati Reds, and Sonny Smith, former basketball coach at Auburn University.

The final day of the conference will begin with a word from Jeremy Chapman, commander of the Mobile Engineer District. Attendees will then hear a series of reports on port development and industry on the waterway, including reports by Mike Swenson, board president of the Birmingham-Jefferson County Port Authority; David Russell, executive director of the Birmingham Port Authority; Aimee Andres, executive director of Inland Rivers, Ports and Terminals; Paul Pittman, president of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Association; and Mitch Mays, president of the Tenn-Tom Waterway Development Council and administrator of the Tenn-Tom Waterway Development Authority. In addition, Timothy Pickering, operations manager for the Maritime Administration’s Office of Ports and Waterways Planning, will discuss grant opportunities for port development for local communities and operators.

Fuller, who is nearing completion of his first year leading the association after serving as the longtime chief of operations for the Mobile District, said he is pleased with the direction of the waterway and is eager to continue learning from and partnering with business and industry on the waterway.

“I’ve enjoyed the challenge of that and working more closely with industry than I was able to with the Corps,” Fuller said. “It’s really been exciting. I get to spend time with our members, operators, waterway users and gain a lot more insight into their industries. It’s really a continuous learning process for me.”

Looking ahead to the rest of 2022, Fuller said he plans to focus on learning more about the mining and steel industries located along the waterway.