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Iron, Steel Trade Growth Spurs Alabama Port Refurbishment

Wed May 30, 2012 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

Construction crews in Mobile, Ala., are busy refurbishing the Alabama State Port Authority (ASPA) as the docks experience dramatic growth in iron and steel trade.

“The old yard was very dated, with approximately 70,000 square feet of unused road and rail area positioned on the back side of the pier area,” said ASPA spokesperson Judith Adams. “The Pier C North terminal is the ASPA’s largest open yard on the main docks. Large sections of the yard had depressions or patched holes in the surface stemming from years of use. These conditions and grade differentials made the terminal challenging for stevedores handling the cargo, and also was very inefficient as sections of the full 244,840 square feet could not be used for storage.”

Workers will demolish the current concrete slab and take out unused road and rail spurs at the base of it, before completely resurfacing the pier, according to Jimmy Lyons, the authority’s executive director. The six-month shutdown will lead to roughly 15 to 20 percent more outside storage space for steel beams, hot rolled coils and plates.

Adams explained, “The open yard is deep draft and is rail served, making it ideal for iron and steel articles. With the growth of regional steel production — ThyssenKrupp, SSAB, Severstal, NUCOR — the terminal’s capacity is being stretched. The improvements at Pier C will increase capacity and improve handling/throughput efficiencies.”

Port officials have closed Pier C North, on the north end of the port’s Mobile River properties, which had traditionally been the port’s main steel terminal. Construction officially began March 1, 2012, with an estimated completion date of Aug. 31, 2012. Currently, work is on schedule and on budget.

Specifically, the project involves the demolition of the existing rail car conveyor pit, concrete slab remaining from previous transit shed demolition, utilities and two landside railroad tracks. The work includes placement of structural fill to bring the storage yard to finished grade and includes a finished surface of concrete pavers.

Also included is installation of auger cast piles, new transition slab and new high mast lighting. Although ASPA conservative construction estimates ranged between $5.25 million and $6 million, the contractors’ bids were very aggressive, bringing in the low bid of just more than $3 million by Ben M. Radcliff Contractor Inc., Mobile, Ala.

According to Ben M. Radcliff Project Manager Crenshaw Poole, “Our biggest concern is scheduling. It’s a long pier, and we have only so much time to complete everything, so meeting our deadline is key. There’s still a lot that has to be done between now and the end of August.

“We do our own concrete work,” Poole explained, “which is a huge portion. A site contractor handles the concrete demolition and a piling contractor will install the auger cast piles. In total, roughly 3,500 yards of concrete will be poured. The last portion of the project will be the interlocking stone pavers, which will take about a month to install. We’re looking at 252,000 square feet of pavers, so it’s a very big task.”

Equipment on the job includes four Caterpillar trackhoes (including one with a hydraulic hammer on the front for demolishing concrete), a Cat front-end loader, a Cat backhoe, a Cat bulldozer, a lull and a Terex crane with a 60-ft. auger for putting in cast piles.

Crews are demolishing the current concrete slab and taking out unused road and rail spurs at the base of it, and will completely resurface the pier. The refurbishment is the largest resurfacing job that’s taken place in the port, utilizing concrete pavers. The authority is not doing the standard concrete slab surfacing technique, but rather repaving using concrete paver brick. The brick is durable and more cost-effective.

“Pier C North represents approximately 244,840 square feet of yard,” Adams added. “When the project is completed it will retain rail quayside, but the older rail on the south side yard will have been removed. About 70,000 square feet of that south side area comprised of an old road and an old rail spur that was situated at a lower grade — in some areas three feet of grade differential. To optimize the entire area for handling and storage, the terminal yard needed to be brought to uniform grade and completely paved.”

Dedicated in 1928, the port authority imports heavy lift and oversized cargo, aluminum, steel, copper, wood pulp, plywood, fence posts, veneers, roll and cut paper, cement and chemicals. Exports include coal, containers, lumber, laminate, flooring and iron.

“Over the past several years,” said Adams, “the seaport’s hinterland has been populated with either new or expanding steel manufacturing mills. Another reason is that global market conditions are ripe for export of U.S. steel products. Pinto Terminal is handling the inbound carbon steel slab for the ThyssenKrupp USA steel mill in Calvert, Ala. When competing for the mill during the site selection process, the ASPA knew it had to develop a terminal to handle the inbound semi-finished slab, quickly, efficiently and at a minimum cost.

“The Terminal’s design and the use of RFID technology, a unique barge haul system, and the overall design of the pier itself helped achieve those goals. It was estimated at full ramp up, that ASPA would be handling up to four million tons of import steel slab annually through the Pinto Terminal,” Adams continued.

“We also anticipated that TK’s logistics group would use larger vessels to reduce shipping costs between Brazil and Mobile. We’ve seen incremental increases in the volume and the vessel sizes as the mill ramps up. The March record shipment of 94,210.244 metric tons was broken just a few weeks later when the M/V MAGSENGER 8 delivered 102,488 metric tons of slab to the terminal.

“Pinto Terminal was designed for efficiency with cranes that can directly discharge to either barge or storage using magnet lift technology, reducing the time, labor and costs associated with dunnage, and three Post-Panamax cranes to work vessels. Currently we are discharging approximately 25,000 metric tons per day. These two record ships were both handled in four days,” Adams concluded.

The ASPA owns and operates the state of Alabama’s deep-water port facilities at the port of Mobile. Its public facilities handled 25 million tons of cargo last year. The authority’s container, general cargo and bulk facilities have immediate access to two interstate systems, five Class-1 railroads and almost 15,000 mi. of inland waterway connections. The completed demolition/renovation project, therefore, should have a major effect on day-to-day operations.

Said Adams, “The refurbishment will definitely have an impact. It should provide more handling and storage space for steel cargoes, and improve handling efficiencies in the terminal.”

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