It’s there, at the Port of New Orleans, that officials are in the early stages of developing plans to build a second container port terminal in anticipation of significant volume growth over the next few years.
The port authority recently authorized up to $300,000 to be awarded to Los Angeles-based AECOM Technical Services to conduct multiple evaluations on a 675-acre property about five miles downriver in St. Bernard Parish, which it has identified as an ideal location for the new container facility.
The first of these studies will cover navigation and wharf engineering issues, and assuming all goes well, those will be followed by examinations of potential yard layout options, community impacts and environmental concerns related to the construction and operation of a marine cargo terminal, Michelle Ganon, the port authority’s vice president of public affairs, told American Shipper in a recent interview.
“The Sinclair site is already rail-served, with accessibility to the Norfolk Southern Railroad and close proximity to major highways,” Ganon said.
“We’ve talked with our state and federal partners to make sure that the transportation off terminal would be sufficient to accommodate the marine needs of both Port NOLA and the nearby St. Bernard Port, building on existing transportation and road options. As part of the project, we’ll make sure there are sufficient rail assets to serve both our needs and residents’ needs, making sure there is appropriate ingress and egress for both maritime activity and the residents of St. Bernard Parish,” she explained.
“Port NOLA has been very fortunate in that we’ve maintained services with each of the three [carrier] alliances,” she added. “So, we’re looking at a berth for each alliance, and then on the landside, distribution centers and other related logistics facilities to enable us to serve our customers well into the future.”
Container Evolution. The potential $1 billion development of a second container terminal is part of the port’s greater “Gateway Master Plan,” which officials expect to release in the next few months and will more than double its annual handling capacity.
The master plan includes the optimization of Port NOLA’s Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal to expand its annual handling capacity from the current 840,000 TEUs to about 1 million TEUs, in addition to at least another 1 million TEUs at the new Sinclair site, Ganon said.
During the 2017 calendar year, the port handled 526,703 TEUs, just a 0.8 percent increase from the previous year, but the third straight year with a throughput of more than 500,000 TEUs, which is a significant figure, according to Ganon.
“That half-million TEU mark is something of a tipping point, and with two new container shipping services welcomed last year, we expect more to follow,” she said. “The market and the industry is very bullish on the [U.S.] Gulf and on New Orleans in particular, but Napoleon is limited in terms of land for expansion."
Ganon said analysts are predicting a 400,000-TEU increase in containerized cargo from plastic resins alone between 2017 and 2020. In all, petrochemical companies along Louisiana’s Lower Mississippi River have announced more than $81 billion in infrastructure investments in new and expansion projects.
“We think there will be plenty to go around in terms of volume, but much of this cargo will naturally flow to Port NOLA, given that plants are positioned mainly in the Baton Rogue and Lake Charles areas of Louisiana,” she said.
“Those volumes translate into big business for Port NOLA’s Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal, growing from 2,600 TEUs per month in 2016 to 7,200 TEUs per month by 2019,” Ganon said.
In an effort to alleviate any concerns about the construction and operation of a 1 million-TEU container terminal in the middle of an otherwise residential stretch of New Orleans riverfront, Ganon said Port NOLA officials have already met with elected officials, community leaders and the public.
“We have an idea, but we’re still at the ‘what if?’ stage,” she said, noting that any final decision is still at least 12 months away. “We really want to make sure there is full transparency, community buy-in, and make sure the project is good for everyone involved. Right now, people have questions and concerns, which is more than understandable, but as this plan starts to become more viable, we will continue to engage the community in thoughtful discussion. The key is that we’re starting with open lines of communication.”
During a January meeting with parish officials and members of Louisiana Economic Development (LED), which has already certified the site as eligible for development, Port NOLA President and CEO Brandy Christian said plans for the Sinclair site call for "more than just a container terminal,” and the goal is really to create a full-service logistics hub that attracts businesses reliant on access to deep-water marine facilities.