The Alabama State Port Authority has closed a pier for six months to facilitate a $7 million renovation, the latest sign of the explosive growth of the steel and iron trade at the Port of Mobile.

A few days ago, port officials 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. Workers will demolish the current concrete slab and take out unused road and rail spurs at the base of it, then completely resurface the pier, said Jimmy Lyons, the authority's executive director.

The end result will be about 15-20 percent more outside storage space for steel beams, hot rolled coils and plates, Lyons said.

The project reflects the port's growing steel presence. In the first four months of this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, the port handled nearly 1.5 million tons of iron and steel, compared to 780,000 tons over the same time period the year before.

Much of that has to do with ThyssenKrupp AG, the German steel giant that built a $5 billion mill in north Mobile County. The carbon steel side of the mill process slabs that are shipped through the Port's Pinto Island Terminal.

But it's not just import slabs driving the increased steel trade, Lyons said. ThyssenKrupp is also sending finished steel back out to foreign customers, and other steelmakers in the region are doing the same as a weak dollar and greater economic strength abroad make American steel more attractive.

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