A new 30,375-square-foot storage warehouse at the Mallard-Fox Creek Port Facility is expected to increase the use of the port and ease truck traffic on area highways, officials said.
A 24,000-square-foot warehouse was built during the port’s original development in the early 1990s, and additional inside storage space is required to support the port's growth, said Jeremy Nails, executive director of the Decatur-Morgan County Port Authority.
Nails, who also heads the county’s Economic Development Association, said the new warehouse will increase tonnage shipped into and out of the Mallard-Fox Creek Industrial Park and Port Facilities by an estimated 10,000 tons per year.
The average annual tonnage is 150,000 tons, according to Nails.
“In ongoing evaluations with our port operator, Watco, it was determined that the port was missing many opportunities for additional shipping tonnage for commodities that require inside storage facilities,” Nails said.
Industrial growth in north Alabama has increased demand for inland ports.
“We have had some interest from Mazda Toyota suppliers and continue to look for opportunities to serve that market since we are the closest public river-port terminal to their site,” Nails said.
Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA is building a $1.6 billion vehicle assembly plant in the Greenbrier area, with production set to start in 2021. Several suppliers are in the process of building on-site and off-site facilities.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for us to expand and help our tenants expand their business,” said Harvey Pride Jr., president of the Port Authority board.
The facility will also help reduce truck traffic on area roadways, said Pride. Pride, the board president for four years, has served on the authority for about 15 years.
Nails said, “We are working with our engineers this week to develop a timeline for completing the engineering designs, and start the bid process” for the warehouse. “We hope to bid out the project no later than May.”
He said the warehouse will be built at the Mallard-Fox Creek Port on available property adjacent to the dock and existing warehouse.
The $888,090 competitive grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs for the warehouse is funded from the state’s new Alabama Inland Port Infrastructure Program. That program was established through $5 million in funding allocated by the state Legislature, in a bill pushed by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, in the 2019 regular session.
Applicants are required to provide at least a 20% match, and projects must be completed within two years of the grant award.
The total expected construction cost estimate is about $1.11 million, according to Nails.
“The Port Authority is responsible for the match and will work with our port operator Watco to develop this new facility into their existing lease agreement,” Nails said.
The authority has continued to develop property along the Tennessee River for industrial use since it was incorporated in April 1982, and the port’s operator has changed hands over the years.
Nails said the authority was given the power to buy, equip and fund industrial developments within its jurisdiction, which initially was a 3-mile radius of the river, but was expanded in 2007 by the Legislature to include the entire county. The law that was passed allows port facilities to develop properties throughout the county in which they are located.
During the 1986-1987 fiscal year, then-Gov. Guy Hunt signed the deeds that transferred the Alabama State Docks in Decatur to the authority. The State Docks site consisted of the docks and about 90 acres of industrial property.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Port Authority was involved in developing the more than 1,000-acre Mallard-Fox Creek Industrial Park and Port, according to Nails, and construction of phase one of the current general commodities port facility began in November 1990.
The dock facility has 320 feet of river frontage and is large enough to allow two barges to offload at one time, Nails said. After the docks’ completion in August 1992, the bid to lease the port facility was awarded to Hill’s Marine Enterprises Inc., which operated the port until 2000.
The operation of the port facility was transferred to Global Materials Services LLC in April 2000, and Kinder Morgan, which acquired Global Materials in 2004, then operated the port until 2016, according to Nails. In 2016, Watco Transloading-Decatur River Port began operating both the Mallard-Fox Creek and State Docks port facilities.
“In addition, the Port Authority managed the engineering and construction of a roll-on, roll-off dock built to accommodate loading rockets that are constructed at United Launch Alliance’s manufacturing facility in Decatur,” Nails said. “The Port Authority continues to manage and coordinate the use of that dock facility with ULA and other users."