Louisiana port is also considering development of an offshore wind facility.

Lake Charles, Louisiana has been a port of call since the early 1800s for vessels picking up cargoes of Louisiana lumber. The local sawmill and lumber industries saw increased growth after the end of the Civil War, when rebuilding efforts in the South stimulated the demand for lumber. The turn of the 20th century saw a declining lumber industry at the port, in part because sandbars made the Calcasieu River impassable to all but shallow-draft schooners.

Fast forward to 2022, and lumber is now the biggest growth cargo for the Port of Lake Charles. In 2019, the port handled 12,000 cubic meters of lumber. That grew to 111,000 cubic meters in 2020 and 128,000 in 2021.

“We’ve already exceeded 2021’s total this year,” said Therrance Chretien, the cargo and trade development director for the Port of Lake Charles. “We are projecting to handle over 300,000 cubic meters of lumber in our facilities in 2022.”

The Port of Lake Charles takes delivery of a 154-ton-capacity Liebherr mobile harbor crane, replacing a unitdestroyed by Hurricane Laura.

Lumber Shipments

These days, the lumber handled at Lake Charles are imports from Europe. Ultrabulk, a dry bulk and breakbulk operator headquartered in Denmark, began calling on the port in 2020, delivering loads of pine and spruce dimensional lumber from Germany, Austria, Finland, Sweden, and Spain. 

Many of the loads are destined for Home Depot and Lowe’s locations in Louisiana and Texas, while others go to distribution centers throughout the country. “Demand for the lumber is mostly in the residential sector,” said Chretien. Ultrabulk has increased the numbers of its customers bringing lumber into Lake Charles from five to eight since it began calling on the port, he added.

The Port of Lake Charles is challenged to handle the growth in breakbulk cargoes because Hurricane Laura destroyed half of its 900,000 square feet of warehousing capacity in 2021. The port has started to replace some of that lost capacity by putting up two tension fabric buildings totaling 100,000 square feet.

“We hope to have those up and running by September of this year,” said Chretien.

Other breakbulk growth areas for the Port of Lake Charles have been in structural steel and rubber shipments. A recent shipment saw 10,000 cubic meters of steel going to Israel. “We expect to be handling two more structural steel shipments by the end of the year,” said Chretien. And, in a first for the port, a nearby Firestone plant loaded a breakbulk ship with synthetic rubber destined for customers in Spain and Poland.

The future of breakbulk at Lake Charles could include development of an offshore wind port. The port handled several shipments of wind blades and power components between 2019 and 2021. So far this year, however, there has been no action on that front. Tax credits for new offshore wind projects expired at the end of last year, which may account for the lack of activity. A fresh package of tax credits is included in the so-called reconciliation bill which is currently pending before Congress.

Offshore Wind Projects

Last year, the port hired the Moffatt & Nichol consulting firm to examine the feasibility of developing an offshore wind marshalling port and/or a manufacturing port on land parcels that are available or may become available at the port’s Industrial Canal. “The port is located in close proximity to the strong offshore wind resource located off the coast of Texas and western Louisiana,” the consultant’s report noted. “Sites at the Industrial Canal may become available to support the offshore wind industry as a marshaling or staging facility, and/or an offshore wind component factory.” The potential Industrial Canal sites include 60 acres of waterfront property, currently subleased through Trunkline LNG, and 30 acres of undeveloped property across Highway 384/Big Lake Road, currently leased to the Shaw Group but potentially available for the project.

The study analyzed the feasibility of two types of offshore-wind port facilities. A wind turbine generation marshaling port would receive blades, turbines, and tower sections from fabrication sites. These components would then be staged, pre-assembled, and loaded out onto an installation vessel for transit to the offshore site. A fabrication facility would manufacture large components-such as blades, tower sections, turbines, transition pieces and foundations—and load them for transit to the marshaling port or installation site.

“Fully assembled offshore wind components are too large to be transported on rail or road,” the consultants noted. “The components are therefore moved from location to location via waterborne transport. The fabrication facilities do require smaller pieces and raw materials to produce the components, and these can be delivered to the site via rail and/or road.”

A multiple use or collocation scenario–sometimes called an offshore wind supply hub–will also be considered for Lake Charles. “The hub scenario can create significant logistics efficiencies,” the consultants noted. “Components can be manufactured and loaded out in adjacent facilities—and therefore, priority will be given to developing a hub at one site.”

“We are looking for offshore wind developers and operators and we are looking to partner with them in a joint deal to develop a wind port,” said Chretien. 

Some progress has been made on that front. The Port of Lake Charles has already hosted three visits with an East Coast wind port operator and has participated in several conference calls with European offshore wind developers. Chretien expects a European developer to visit Lake Charles in the near future to look at the site.

In order to make the wind port a reality, the consultants recommended that the port make some improvements at the site of any potential facility. “We would need to dredge along the dockside and do some repaving,” noted Chretien. “We would also need to build a new bulkhead for vessels and do some groundwork in the lay down areas so that they can accommodate the very heavy pieces involved in offshore wind developments.”

But for now, the port is concentrated on making the infrastructure improvements to replace warehousing facilities destroyed in last year’s hurricane. “We are getting a lot of inquiries,” said Chretien. “We’re putting up the new buildings so that we can handle more cargo.”