Containers Are Key To Agreement Between Plaquemines And St. Louis

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed March 27 between four ports in St. Louis, Mo., and the Port of Plaquemines, La., is laying the groundwork for a collaboration focused on an expected growth in container cargoes on the rivers.

The St. Louis Regional Freightway and Plaquemines Port Harbor & Terminal District signed the MOU in a ceremony attended by about 90 people in St. Louis. Sal Litrico, CEO of American Patriot Holdings LLC (APH) was a speaker.

An APH subsidiary, APCT, is finalizing plans to construct and operate self-propelled container vessels on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. The APH vessels are patented and will carry up to 2,500 containers at speeds of 13 mph. with virtually no wake, making round trips possible to Memphis in seven days and to St. Louis in 10 days.

The vessels recently completed model testing in Germany, and final engineering and design is underway. Given that progress, APH and the Port of Plaquemines are exploring where the vessels will stop along the inland waterways, and the St. Louis region is a viable contender. The MOU follows the signing of an exclusive agreement last year by Plaquemines Port and APH to provide container service from a future terminal in Plaquemines to destinations as far north as Chicago.

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Signing the MOU were Sandy Sanders, executive director of Plaquemines Port Harbor & Terminal District; Mary C. Lamie, executive director of St. Louis Regional Freightway; John M. Nations, president and CEO of Bi-State Development; Dennis Wilmsmeyer, executive director of America’s Central Port; Susan Taylor, port director of the Port Authority of St. Louis; Ed Weilbacher, general manager of the Kaskaskia Regional Port District; and Neal Breitweiser, executive director of the Jefferson County Port Authority.

All spoke briefly about the importance of growing cargoes on the Mississippi River, and of containerized cargoes in particular. “The key to the success of this market is containers,” said Wilmsmeyer. “We have to do better at making opportunities for container shipments.”

Weilbacher noted that a company in Red Bud, Ill., already ships 600 containers a year by water and said container growth would represent a “paradigm shift” for the rivers. The Kaskaskia River Port District includes 80 miles of Mississippi River frontage.

The agreement, which represents a five-year commitment, calls for joint marketing initiatives and exchange of data to establish and grow an alliance to generate new business by promoting international and inland trade routes at strategic locations along the Mississippi River.

A statement by St. Louis Regional Freightway said the agreement “embodies the St. Louis region’s strong support for the efforts underway by American Patriot Holdings LLC and the Port of Plaquemines to develop a hub-and-spoke transportation system for container transport vessel shipments from Plaquemines, at the mouth of the Mississippi River just south of New Orleans, to the St. Louis region.” Initial discussions have focused on loading operations at a centralized location in Jefferson County, with feeder services by rail, barge and truck throughout the bi-state region and the Mississippi River Basin.

“The Freightway is committed to serving the greater St. Louis region by helping to support efforts to attract shippers and carriers, and we believe the proposed container transport vessel route would benefit the entire region and other ports along the Mississippi River Basin,” said Lamie. “Today’s signing represents bi-state support and recognition by all four public ports in the area of the potential growth that could arise from this MOU, and it stands as another outstanding example of regionalism at its best.”

Sanders called the agreement an important step. “We plan to move thousands of containers from our port to theirs utilizing the American Patriot Holdings’ unique container transport vessels. The hub-and-spoke system provides opportunities for value-added services to be performed on the shipped goods at any of the cargo aggregation points. This is a real job multiplier.”

“This agreement is not a formal commitment to establish operations in Jefferson County,” noted Breitweiser, “but it’s a key milestone in the process to develop a large-scale port in the St. Louis region that supports a transportation network between the Plaquemines Port and the upper ports of the Mississippi River.”

“Given the 40 percent growth projected in freight volume over the next 30 years, we believe collaborations like these will have a far-reaching positive impact for the St. Louis region and the entire nation,” Nations said. “We want shippers to have as many options as possible to move some of that freight through our ports along the stretch of the Mississippi that continues to gain recognition as the Ag Coast of America. This latest agreement supports the region’s efforts to provide an additional modal choice to cargo shippers.”

Several speakers spoke of the need to reroute container shipments away from the West Coast. Currently, most of the containers heading to the Midwest are moving by rail from California. The widened new lane of the Panama Canal has transportation experts looking at less costly options, which include Gulf of Mexico and East Coast ports.

“The Plaquemines to St. Louis route would be a key component of the service American Patriot Holdings intends to implement throughout the Mississippi River Basin,” Sanders said. “There are a wide variety of opportunities we are exploring, which include utilizing the vessels and port facilities for agricultural products, including refrigerated cargo. Ideally, goods and products could be shipped up river, and agricultural products could be shipped down river. The timing is right for us to market this new option, which will move large numbers of containers via the Mississippi River, our nation’s greatest river highway. Utilizing American Patriot’s liner vessel and smaller hybrid vessel, connection by water is feasible through the lock system and some of the smaller tributaries of the Mississippi River.”