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Mobile Ship Channel Expansion Project Draws Environmental Concerns

A proposed expansion of Alabama’s Mobile Ship Channel is drawing criticism due to its potential environmental impact. If authorized, the expansion would widen and deepen the channel to accommodate larger ships according to a report by AL.com.

Jimmy Lyons, director of the Alabama State Port Authority, told Al.com that the channel needs to be modified to accept Super-Panamax ships that are coming in from the recently-widened Panama Canal. At this time, the ships are not able to enter the port fully loaded. He also pointed out that if one of these ships is coming through, the Mobile Ship Channel is shut down for other boats, sometimes for seven or eight hours. He said that this project is designed with the local economy in mind.

“It’s our shippers, manufacturers and agribusiness stakeholders and associated jobs that will benefit from logistics cost savings generated from the availability of larger ships and a nearby port that can support those ships,” he said in a statement to Al.com. “This project, when defined, has the opportunity to ensure Alabama businesses remain competitive with their offshore manufacturing and business counterparts.”

This project is also sparking pushback from environmental groups. The Mobile Environmental Justice Coalition wrote a letter to the US Army Corps of Engineers to voice their concerns. They warned against the adverse effects that further development of the channel could have on the Afticatown and Orange Grove communities, for example.

“These two communities are already dealing with a variety of land use issues, including the proposed expansion of an oil storage tank farm and approval of a coal handling facility,” they wrote. “The concerns are associated with potential health and safety issues associated with such facilities. For instance, residents of both communities report to us about smelling noxious asphalt and oil fumes on an almost-weekly basis.”

This expansion could also damage oyster reefs, increase erosion, and change the salinity of the region, AL.com reports. While some shipping companies are taking steps for better environmental practices, such as using recycled boxes and bags, the aforementioned damages are not as easily repaired.

The Army Corps of Engineers launched a $7.8 million study in March to investigate these environmental concerns, as well as the costs and benefits of the proposed project.

“What we do know is that the study will address economic, engineering and environmental considerations and propose a project scope based on both costs and benefits” Lyons said in a statement to Al.com. “In fact, we purposefully sought a waiver from the three-year study rule to ensure the necessary studies had time to be completed.”

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