Global engineering and construction giant Bechtel announced earlier this month that it has been selected by a developer to manage the pre-construction phase of a privately financed container port on the Gulf of Mexico called the Louisiana International Gulf Transfer Terminal (LIGTT).
first reported on Bechtel's involvement in the February cover story, "Is LIGTT Legit?
," which raised questions about the economic and financial assumptions behind the $1.3 billion project, as well as its engineering and operational feasibility.
Project backers say they will create almost 34,000 direct and indirect jobs in Louisiana over 10 years and another 150,000 jobs in other states. The 250-acre port facility is touted as a solution to draft restrictions for ultra-large container vessels on the Mississippi River between the Gulf and New Orleans. Organizers envision a transshipment hub in a remote, undeveloped area along the approach to the Mississippi where containers will be transferred to and from barges and specially built, shallow-draft, self-geared vessels that will shuttle cargo to ports up and down the Mississippi River system and along the Gulf via the intercoastal waterway, or by sea.
“This terminal will increase America’s shipping efficiency by accommodating the larger vessels to come through the expanded Panama Canal, as well as the even-larger super post-Panamax vessels currently in operation,” said Patrick Harvey, principal of LIGTT Project Company. “It will also expand America’s shipping capacity by using a hub-and-spoke system to transport goods to and from America’s heartland via the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Given the high-level nature of this project, we’re glad to have such a world-class partner in Bechtel, a company synonymous with quality.”
Money for the venture is planned to come from thousands of foreign investors seeking to obtain "green cards" for permanent U.S. residency. Under an obscure Department of Homeland Security program managed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, foreigners can gain residency by contributing $1 million for a commercial enterprise that creates or preserves at least 10 jobs. Under a more expansive definition of job creation, large projects that create indirect as well as direct jobs can accept investments of $500,000 from multiple overseas investors.
Harvey is the managing partner of ABK Venture Group, which is the brain behind the project and a middleman for packaging investments under the so-called "EB-5" visa program.
ABK's website has gone dark since American Shipper
's story was published. It now says it is under maintenance.
In a recent appearance on "Fox Business," Harvey said, "We've never had this many people [foreign investors] concentrated in an infrastructure project. And its never been highly organized or institutionalized the way we're treating it." The movement of large volumes of cargo will have a "multiplier effect for more warehouses, more shipping facilities, more everything" that will create jobs, he said.
Unclear is whether any ocean carriers are interested in serving such a port, whether U.S. labor costs and regulations such as the Jones Act will make the port competitive with other regional transshipment ports, and whether inland distribution of containerized goods by barge instead of highway or rail is viable.
Although the project is to be completed using private money, LIGTT partners have suggested they want to turn it over to the state of Louisiana and get their money back.
Bechtel has already begun providing preliminary services for overseeing the design and permitting of the facility, and will assist in the procurement of a terminal operator.
Bechtel has overseen more than 80 port and harbor projects around the world, including Jubail Port in Saudi Arabia, Khalifa Port in the United Arab Emirates and the Hay Point Coal Terminal in Australia.