Port NOLA Inner Harbor Revitalization Plan Moving
About a year and a half ago, upon completion of its new master plan, the Port of New Orleans (Port NOLA) launched an effort to craft a long-term vision and revitalization plan for the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, the waterway that connects the Mississippi River on the east bank near the city’s historic Holy Cross neighborhood to Lake Pontchartrain and the eastern Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW).
The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC), known locally as the Industrial Canal, is a century-old channel envisioned as a connection point for deepwater vessels between the river and the lake. The IHNC opened in 1923 with the completion of the accompanying lock. Then, with the construction of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in the 1930s, the canal also became a vital link for shallow-draft tows heading east or west on the GIWW. While the exponential growth of ships rendered the canal largely unused by deep-draft vessels, the lock and lower end of the IHNC remain the sole connection between the eastern and western reaches of the GIWW. Today, the IHNC also serves as a water connection for a wide range of industries, from cargo warehousing to shipyard services to even coffee roasting.
The port funded the IHNC redevelopment plan, called the Port Inner Harbor Economic Revitalization\(PIER) Plan, with a $200,000 planning grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Area-Wide Planning grant program. Other partners in the revitalization plan included the city of New Orleans, Regional Planning Commission, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice.
“We were trying to come up with a more detailed plan, get buy-in from lots of different groups of stakeholders and have a vision where we could start clearing the way for redevelopment,” said Amelia Pellegrin, director of sustainable development for the port.
The port finalized the plan, with much community involvement, in February, and the port’s board of commissioners approved the PIER Plan during its April 23 meeting.
In essence, the plan divides the IHNC into six campuses, which will guide future development on port-owned property. Identified areas include a maritime recreational campus near the lake, a large central area for packaging and processing, an intermodal campus across from where the GIWW meets the IHNC, an eastern cargo campus on the GIWW that capitalizes on shallow-draft activity already rooted there, a recycling campus near the EMR’s recycling center and an area set aside for transitional port uses. The port also identified three smaller catalyst sites along the canal.
Port NOLA continues to make progress on its IHNC redevelopment plan. Most recently, the port partnered with the Regional Planning Commission to apply for and receive a $600,000 grant to conduct environmental investigations on properties port officials thought most likely to have environmental issues standing in the way of redevelopment.
Pellegrin explained that most properties that have had an industrial use will have some environmental issue in need of attention or documentation. Those environmental assessments don’t always lead to a remediation, Pellegrin said. Sometimes the site assessments are needed to verify, for instance, that an underground storage tank was, indeed, removed. Other common areas of assessment for older structures include investigation into the presence of lead paint or asbestos.
“The whole goal for us here is to clear properties for redevelopment,” she said.
After conducting the investigation, the port will then submit findings to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, which would then certify that the properties in question are ready for redevelopment.
Pellegrin said a property’s environmental certification is important “for developers or potential tenants going forward so there’s not a hold up when someone is interested in exploring leasing a property and investing in it as a tenant.”
Pellegrin said the port also hopes the plan for the Inner Harbor will also spur investment off port property. For this, she pointed to the eastern cargo campus on the GIWW leading toward New Orleans East, a region of the city often cited as in need of investment and attention.
“I think there’s tremendous opportunity in New Orleans East for industrial redevelopment, so … our thinking was, if we can articulate a vision here, it could also help spur further redevelopment in New Orleans East,” she said.