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Work planned on ICW repair complex

White-Spunner Construction and Saunders Yachtworks announced work on a dry-dock basin in Gulf Shores, Ala., establishing a major vessel repair complex on the Intracoastal Waterway.

The $10 million-plus project is being funded by the city of Gulf Shores, Saunders Yachtworks of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, and the Economic Development Agency of the U.S. Commerce Department. White-Spunner received a $5.1 million contract to build the second phase of the project, which has been in planning and design for six years.

White-Spunner will begin construction April 18 on the basin, docks and heavy-lift infrastructure components. The project is expected to last 15 months and create 180 construction jobs during that time.

The facility is on 14 acres owned by the city and its airport authority and leased to Saunders in a long-term arrangement. Customers are expected to be drawn from the northern Gulf Coast, South Florida and the nation's inland rivers up to the Great Lakes.

The complex will serve operators of recreational, military, and commercial vessels.

"This is a future-leaning project," company chairman Andrew Saunders said in a statement. "It is all about what we can develop into the future by seizing the opportunities of a large regional market. We are combining the major infrastructure capacity of the new yard with the proven performance history of our company and presenting that to an expanding regional market. We are confident this will be a winning combination for our company and for the community."

The city of Gulf Shores ultimately will contribute $1.2 million in matching funds, representing a total infrastructure investment of $5.9 million. Saunders already has invested $3.6 million in the Gulf Shores project, including land and construction costs. The company completed a 15,000-square-foot headquarters on the Gulf Shores site in 2009 that includes shops, warehouses and offices.

The company will invest another $1.2 million for dry-dock machinery and lift equipment.

Gulf Shores mayor Robert Craft said the dry dock will bring many new people to the area. The partnership with Saunders marks a significant step toward the city's dual goals of industrial and geographic diversification.

"Most of our development has been on the beaches and most of it has been geared toward tourism," Craft said in a statement. "One of our important goals has been to move away from a tourism-based economy on the beaches. Our second coast is the Intracoastal Waterway and this development is a huge step forward in promoting that second coast and our area."