World Trade & Transport Conference Focuses On River Ops, Economy And More

The Mississippi Valley Trade & Transport Council hosted the 37th annual World Trade & Transport Conference (WTTC) in New Orleans, La., February 28. For the third year, The Coal Institute joined the conference, holding a coal-specific panel discussion as part of the broader focus on world trade and its connection to the Mississippi River. In all, close to 250 people attended the conference, which also featured a golf tournament, a social dinner and receptions, as well as the opportunity to see a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade.

On February 27, conference attendees had the opportunity to tour the former Avondale Shipyard, which was purchased last year after Huntington Ingalls Industries closed the yard in 2014.

Avondale Marine, a joint venture of T. Parker Host and Hilco Redevelopment Partners, purchased the property in October 2018 and is in the process of developing a new vision for the space, which covers nearly 260 contiguous acres on the west bank of the Mississippi River near New Orleans. The site features five docks and more than a dozen cranes, all spread across close to 8,000 linear feet of frontage on the Mississippi River.

Adam Anderson, president and CEO of T. Parker Host and principal leader of Avondale Marine, led WTTC attendees on the tour of the facility, including its expansive warehouses and docks. Anderson said plans are for Avondale Marine to officially reopen in June with a fresh vision for the future.

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“We worked really hard to repurpose it as a multimodal terminal,” Anderson said.

For the present, Avondale Marine is offering its dock space for lay berthing. The first vessel, the mv. Ning Tai Hi, arrived January 7.

Anderson said the Avondale site is rife with logistics advantages, not the least of which is its electrical supply. He said more power is supplied to Avondale than to the entire city of New Orleans.

“That’s no exaggeration,” Anderson said.

Anderson said he sees Avondale Marine playing a role in the oil and gas piping logistics chain, as well as serving as a multimodal distribution center. The beauty of the size of the site and diversity of its infrastructure is that Avondale Marine can truly grow into a multipurpose terminal, Anderson said.

Both Anderson and Cees van de Mortel, chief commercial officer for T. Parker Host, who spoke at the conference, also highlighted Avondale Marine’s participation in Jefferson Parish’s re-entry program, which employs nonviolent offenders from the area who are seeking a fresh start in the job market.

The World Trade & Transport Conference started with a look at navigation on the Mississippi River in the greater New Orleans area. Capt. Kristi Luttrell, captain of the Port of New Orleans and commander of Coast Guard Sector New Orleans, opened the conference with a look at high water. Luttrell lamented that the river has been stubbornly high for months, with even more high water on the horizon.

“We’d love for that river to drop, but it doesn’t look like anytime soon it’s going to go down, with spring rainfall just around the corner,” Luttrell said.

She was speaking just a day after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began opening the Bonnet Carré Spillway to divert a portion of the Mississippi River’s floodwater to Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico.

As of March 14, 206 of the spillway’s 350 bays were open, resulting in a discharge of 202,000 cubic feet per second (cfs.) of the river toward the lake. The trigger point for operating the Bonnet Carré Spillway is 1.25 million cfs. at the structure, which generally equals 17 feet at the Carrollton Gage in New Orleans.

In the same panel discussion, Sean Duffy, executive director of the Big River Coalition, and Capt. Michael Miller, president of the Associated Branch Pilots, discussed the impact that weather—namely high water and fog—has on river traffic and the Corps’ ability to maintain adequate river depths through Southwest Pass. Fog has hampered ship traffic this year, while high flows have led to shoaling near Head of Passes. And those two factors, fog and shoaling, have at times exacerbated one another, with fog sometimes preventing the Corps from surveying the channel. As a result, the Associated Branch Pilots have at times had to restrict the draft through Southwest Pass out of an abundance of caution, due to the lack of survey data.

“What happens in the fog is, when we don’t get surveys for four or five days, we’re not sure what the depth is,” Miller said.

Mark Wright, southern region vice president for The American Waterways Operators (AWO) and a Louisiana state representative, outlined recent and upcoming battles over preservation of the Jones Act and implementation of Subchapter M.

Jim Adams, director of government relations for the Jones Walker law firm, provided the quote of the day when he said, “The first two months of Congress has been a mud wrestling contest.”

Economist Patrick Ryan and Justine Fisher, who is vice president of commodities research for Goldman Sachs, shared their outlooks for the U.S. economy for the next couple years. Ryan foresees a recession in the near term, whereas Fisher was more positive.

“I think we have gone as far as we can go in this recovery,” said Ryan, adding that, for him, it’s not a question of “if” but “when” a recession will occur.

“At some point, you’ll be right, but we just don’t know when,” Fisher replied. “Our economists do not foresee a recession in 2019 in the U.S., and we do not foresee a recession in 2020.”

The conference then features a panel discussion of coal experts, which included Brian Miles, vice president of sales for Biehl; Matt Moore, senior coal trader for Vattenfall Energy Trading; Ashely Energy Vice President and Senior Consultant Adam Anderson; and Gerald Quitter, president of the Coal Network. Besides overall prices and trends, each panelist emphasized how environmental conditions—river flooding, fog, lock closures and draft restrictions—have strained the coal supply chain.

Attendees ended the day with a trade- and transport-focused panel discussion, which featured Ken Eriksen, senior vice president of Informa Economics; Port of New Orleans Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Bobby Landry; Brett Caplice, director of Bunge North America; Philip Bell, president of the Steel Manufacturers Association; Sandor Toth, president and founder of Criton Corporation; and Trish Haver, senior port development manager for Norfolk Southern Corporation.

For more information on this year’s World Trade & Transport Conference, including presentations from the conference, visit the Mississippi Valley Trade & Transport Council’s website.