The diverse ports of the central Gulf region are advancing projects to facilitate efficient handling of growing volumes of containerized commodities as well as liquid and dry bulk cargos.
While ports such as those of Mobile and New Orleans are focused on escalating container-moving capabilities, others, including several in Louisiana, are looking to derive increasing benefits from the fossil fuels sector.
Maintaining sufficient depths of channels and waterways, including the Mississippi River, is of concern to multiple mid-Gulf ports as well.
Here’s the scoop on major ports of the central Gulf region, starting in Alabama and proceeding generally westward across Mississippi and Louisiana:
Alabama State Port Authority
Having realized a 19 percent year-over-year growth in containerized cargo volume in 2016, the Alabama State Port Authority is looking to handle further increasing activity through multiple expansions of APM Terminals Mobile’s container terminal. A $40 million second-phase expansion, to include two new super-post-Panamax cranes to arrive in May plus 20 additional developed acres, is to bring the terminal’s annual throughput capacity to 500,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units, while a third phase next year aims to boost capacity to 650,000 TEUs. Additional phases bode to deliver total yearly capacity of 1.5 million TEUs. The Port of Mobile’s intermodal container transfer facility, which opened in mid-2016, now offers import, export and domestic containerized cargo rail service via Canadian National Railway with mid-U.S. and Canadian markets.
Ranked as the No. 2 U.S. steel port behind only Houston, the Port of Mobile nearly doubled its steel product export tonnage last year. Also, the Alabama State Port Authority continues concessionaire negotiations related to its planned automotive logistics terminal and has inked a memorandum of understanding with
Cuba’s national port administration.
Port of Pascagoula
The Jackson County Port Authority’s Port of Pascagoula also has signed an MOU with the Cuban port administration, with the port’s longtime director and current American Association of Port Authorities chairman, Mark McAndrews, inking the pact Feb. 20 during a visit to Havana. At the Port of Pascagoula, situated on the Mississippi coast about 40 miles southwest of Mobile, the project to bring 24 miles of federal channels to their authorized depth of 42 feet has been completed, with material generated in the undertaking having been pumped to a new Round Island beneficial use site for creation of a sustainable marsh habitat. Bulkheading at the port’s Pascagoula River South Terminal property is being upgraded to match the 42-foot depth and raise wharf height to 13 feet at mean low water.
The future site of a new Port of Pascagoula export terminal at the Bayou Casotte property has been cleared with demolition of an obsolete 175,000-square-foot warehouse. Installation of new sheet pilings is complete, and concrete deck repairs are to be finished in May.
Mississippi State Port Authority
Emerging from a decade-plus in federally backed restoration mode following 2005 devastation by Hurricane Katrina, the Mississippi State Port Authority’s Port of Gulfport has, according to enthusiastic officials, swung into an implementation phase with last year’s arrival of three new gantries and return of longtime tenant Chiquita Fresh North America.
The MSPA – which also signed a Cuba MOU in February – saw first use of the cranes by a Mediterranean Shipping Co. vessel carrying Chiquita bananas. After a two-year hiatus to New Orleans, Chiquita last July signed a 40-year lease on 32 acres at the Port of Gulfport. In addition, Crowley Maritime Corp., an MSPA tenant since 1999, has signed on to stay at Gulfport for another 15 years.
Also, a new bulk cargo facility has come online at Gulfport’s port, handling ilmenite ore and other materials used in producing titanium dioxide at a nearby Chemours Co. plant. And the MSPA has joined the University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Ocean Science and Technology in breaking ground for the $12 million Port of Gulfport Marine Research Center.
Encompassing nearly 100 Louisiana miles on the southernmost reaches of Mississippi River, the Plaquemines Port, Harbor and Terminal District’s Plaquemines Port continues to be among the nation’s top dozen ports as measured by annual tonnage handled, thanks largely to facilities owned and operated by such companies as the Phillips 66 Co., Chevron Corp., Stolthaven New Orleans LLC, the CHS Inc. grains cooperative, Kinder Morgan and United Bulk Terminals. Christmas 2016 came a bit early for the Plaquemines Parish port, with Dec. 21 announcement of Venture Global LNG’s plans to develop a $8.5 billion natural gas liquefaction and LNG export terminal on 632-acres of port-owned property along the west bank of the Mississippi River near Myrtle Grove. Construction is to begin in early 2018, with operations expected to begin in 2022 of a facility with an annual export capacity of 20 million metric tons.
In November, the first export shipment was made from Castleton Commodities International’s $1.2 billion methanol plant in Braithwaite, on a Plaquemines Parish site formerly occupied by Amax Nickel.
St. Bernard Port
By focusing on midstream cargo transfers, the Chalmette, Louisiana-based St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District is taking an innovative approach to countering landside berth limitations along its 10-mile stretch of the Lower Mississippi River downriver from New Orleans. Cargo is safely and cost-effectively moved between ships and barges by marine terminal operator Associated Terminals of St. Bernard through a transloading system deploying three sets of mooring buoys, three barge fleeting areas and a fleet of eight or more barge-mounted Gottwald cranes. Cargos unloaded from oceangoing vessels at St. Bernard Port and carried farther inland via barges, trucks and rail are metallic ores and minerals, ferrous alloys, petroleum coke, zinc concentrates, fertilizers and steel.
St. Bernard Port is currently making improvements to its Violet Terminal breasting and mooring dolphins, and it is completing the final two sections of a dock surface and seawall project at its Arabi Terminal.
Port of New Orleans
Initiation in January by France-based CMA CGM of direct weekly container service between Asia and the Port of New Orleans is seen as a big competitive step forward for the Big Easy port, including in its ability to provide reliable capacity for exporters of petrochemical resins.
Even before introduction of the CMA CGM service, the Port of New Orleans set a containerized cargo mark in its fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2016, moving 532,427 TEUs. The port is now preparing to invest an additional $25 million in its Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal to bring annual container throughput capacity to nearly 1 million TEUs. The terminal offers an enhanced rail link via the $25 million Mississippi River Intermodal Terminal, opened in March 2016.
As 2017 began, Brandy D. Christian took over as the port’s president and chief executive officer following two years as its chief operating officer and 14 years as a Port of San Diego executive. She succeeds Gary LaGrange, who was at the Port of New Orleans’ helm for 15 years.
On the northwestern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, the South Tangipahoa Parish Port Commission’s 140-acre Port Manchac intermodal terminal has completed the first phase of a $3 million Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development infrastructure program designed to provide safe, efficient, around-the-clock transloading operations for the port’s barge, rail, trucking and storage tenants. Elements include improvements to bulkheads, laydown storage areas, internal roadways and drainage, as well as dredging. Next-phase improvements are aimed at facilitating future container shipment operations at the terminal, with projects this year including warehouse expansion for an existing chemical manufacturer tenant and installation of emergency standby power generators.
An additional $1 million infrastructure grant is to go toward development of a container transloading operation currently being marketed to the resin industry in conjunction with the Canadian National Railway Co. Port Manchac is located on the CN mainline and is adjacent to Interstate 55.
Port of South Louisiana
The present focus at the Port of South Louisiana is on encouraging federal advancement of Mississippi River dredging, with port officials having traveled to Washington in hopes of the Trump administration moving forward a $1 billion endeavor that would help alleviate draft restrictions. River restrictions notwithstanding, the Port of South Louisiana, which covers a 54-mile stretch along both sides of the Mississippi River upriver from New Orleans, continues to build upon the ranking it has held for two decades as the Western Hemisphere’s No. 1 tonnage port. In 2016, the port handled 294.9 million short tons of foreign and domestic commerce, up from its prior hemispheric record of 292.8 million tons set in 2015.
Recent infrastructure undertakings at the Port of South Louisiana include warehouse expansion, addition of a pair of mobile cranes, development of a rail yard for formation of unit trains and general cargo dock strengthening. Port officials also are looking at the potential of development of containerized cargo transloading operations, perhaps under a public-private partnership.
Port of Greater Baton Rouge
A bit farther up the Mississippi, in Port Allen, opposite Louisiana’s capital city, at the river’s convergence with the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, the Port of Greater Baton Rouge continues among the nation’s top 10 tonnage ports, largely relying upon petrochemical and agricultural cargos, including those moved through the recently enhanced Louis Dreyfus Commodities LLC grain elevator. Also, the Drax BioMass facility at the port is going strong in its second year with wood pellet exports to the United Kingdom. The container-on-barge service initiated last year by SEACOR AMH LLC with the Port of Greater Baton Rouge as its pivot point gained a boost last fall with award of a $1.75 million U.S. Maritime Administration grant to support acquisition of specialized container-loading equipment.
The shuttle service moves containers filled with resin products for such customers as Exxon Mobil Corp., Shintech Inc. and The Dow Chemical Co. down the river to the Port of New Orleans, where they’re loaded on oceangoing vessels for export. Empty containers used in the operation make the 500-mile river journey down from Memphis.
Louisiana’s southernmost port, the Greater Lafourche Port Commission’s Port Fourchon is seeing a slight rebound in the Gulf of Mexico deepwater oil production business it serves, but port officials are this year continuing to offer tenants rental reductions that were in place in 2016. Port Fourchon is nonetheless proceeding with projects to accommodate future growth. At Slip C, the port has completed new wharf areas of 800 linear feet and 950 linear feet and is about to begin construction on an additional 939 feet, while yet another 1,671 linear feet of development enters the design phase. Additional development is in design for Slip D, with bids for hydraulic dredge work to soon be solicited. Also, a study is looking at bringing channel depths to as many as 50 feet to better accommodate deepwater rig development, refurbishment and servicing.
In January, Energy World USA announced plans to develop at the port a liquefied natural gas production and export facility with ultimate annual output of as many as 2 million tons of LNG.
Port of Morgan City
At the confluence of the Atchafalaya River and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, the Morgan City Harbor & Terminal District’s Port of Morgan City is engaged in efforts seeking to maintain the full extent of the sediment-plagued river channel at its authorized depth of 20 feet. Flooding in late 2015 and 2016 has resulted in exacerbation of shoaling issues. The port collaborated last summer with the New Orleans District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a demonstration project agitating suspended sediment, or fluff, in the Atchafalaya Bar Channel using a hopper dredge. Surveys completed in February show that, while the channel continues to deteriorate, it is in better shape than prior to the agitation effort. Thus, the short duration agitation method is being championed as a lower-cost, more effective alternative to traditional dredging.
Whereas channel depths of fewer than 10 feet in some areas are a deterrent to commerce, port officials see a 20-foot-deep channel as sufficient to attract shipbuilding, offshore construction, fabrication and agriculture.
Port of Lake Charles
Encompassing 203 square miles along the Calcasieu River Ship Channel in Southwest Louisiana, the Port of Lake Charles is enjoying a decade-long renaissance, with private-sector investments totaling more than $100 billion from companies including Lake Charles LNG, Cameron LNG, Sasol USA, Big Lake Energy, Magnolia LNG and Cheniere Energy, as well as Golden Nugget Casino. Recent enhancements aimed at bolstering efficient cargo-handling capabilities include a double-loop rail track system facilitating formation of 120-car unit trains; a new entrance plaza and front gate; and a high-capacity ship unloader.
The $60 million export grain terminal of IFG Port Holdings LLC is well into its second year of operation at the Port of Lake Charles, with Union Pacific Railroad trains as well as trucks bringing in Louisiana rice, wheat, corn, soybeans and dried distiller’s grain for export via oceangoing vessels to Latin America and other markets.