Port NOLA Holds Open Houses For Future Container Terminal
Over the course of eight days, the Port of New Orleans (Port NOLA) hosted three open houses in St. Bernard Parish to engage residents from the community that will be home to the proposed Louisiana International Terminal (LIT), a new multiphase container terminal and logistics park planned for the east bank of the Mississippi River in Violet, La.
Meetings were held on March 9, 15 and 17 in Chalmette, Violet and lower St. Bernard, respectively.
Advocates of the project argue that it’s crucial for New Orleans and the state of Louisiana to remain competitive with other container terminals on the Gulf Coast and around the country. Currently, air gap restrictions prevent the largest container ships from accessing the port’s Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal.
“Right now, the Port of New Orleans’ Uptown facility is the state’s only international container terminal,” said Laura Mellem, the port’s director of emergency management & external affairs, speaking at the meeting in Chalmette. “But because of the Crescent City Connection bridge, the larger vessels—vessels are getting bigger and bigger—aren’t going to be able to get under the bridge.”
The port’s solution is to build a second terminal, downriver from the bridge. Port NOLA has already completed the purchase of a 1,200-acre site in Violet, following a yearlong due-diligence period. The site is on a naturally deep and accessible stretch of the Mississippi River, and it’s located inside the region’s levee protection system. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun its environmental review process for the project, with the port expecting to learn this year if an environmental impact study (EIS) is needed.
The port, along with local, state and federal parties, is exploring parallel infrastructure projects in the parish that would provide another major roadway for St. Bernard, which would allow most port traffic to avoid existing roads. The port is also negotiating with potential terminal operators, partnering with local groups on workforce development plans, gathering soil samples and evaluating multiple terminal design options.
If all goes as planned, the construction phase for the initial berth and buildout would begin in 2025, with the first berth opening in 2028.
According to the port, on day one, the new terminal would account for an estimated 635 direct and indirect jobs in St. Bernard Parish and a local tax revenue boost of $1.3 million.
For Louisiana and the Port of New Orleans, the project represents a generational opportunity to build a modern container terminal and logistics park from scratch, with all the operational efficiencies and competitiveness that it represents.
And while the 1,200-acre site in Violet is predominantly vacant—there is an elementary school and playground that would be relocated—the footprint of the proposed terminal is buttressed by well-established neighborhoods. The project has garnered some robust opposition in the community. The parish council passed a resolution opposing the terminal, and a grassroots organization called SOS (Save Our St. Bernard) is placing yard signs and billboards around the parish.
“There’s just too many cons against the project for us to support it,” said Fred Everhardt, parish council member for District E, which includes Violet. “There’s absolutely not one thing that’s positive about the port coming to St. Bernard.”
Everhardt said residents are concerned about drainage issues, traffic, air pollution, noise and security issues. Everhardt said there’s no way for the port to guarantee the terminal will even have a workforce.
“Who’s to know it’s not going to be an automated port, where they don’t need nobody?” He asked.
Walt Roesch, a St. Bernard native and president of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Local 2036, said the fear about an automated port is completely unfounded because ILA has a contract with the United States Maritime Alliance, which represents container carriers, direct employers and port associations.
“They can’t have a fully automated terminal,” Roesch said. “To say they’re going to come in and make this an automated facility is wrong.”
As for traffic, Roesch said he’s very optimistic that the port, parish, state and federal government will be able to design and build a new elevated roadway that will, potentially, follow the parish’s 40 Arpent Canal (or the “back levee”) and connect with Paris Road and Interstate 10, thus bypassing the parish’s existing roadways. That concept actually aligns with a longer highway proposed years ago as an additional hurricane evacuation route across Orleans and St. Bernard parishes.
The berths on the riverside of the site will require St. Bernard Highway, the river road in the parish, to be rerouted, but that likely would add just a mile to through traffic. And while the school and playground will have to be moved, the replacements will, no doubt, be an asset to the community, he said. And with regard to air quality, Roesch pointed to the port’s new all-electric gantry cranes and its program to help truck drivers upgrade to more environmentally conscious vehicles.
Roesch, who’s also involved in a welding advisory committee at Nunez Community College in St. Bernard and in a workforce development program, said, while he understands that residents are afraid of change, he hopes they will see the opportunity the terminal represents.
“We have an opportunity to do this right from the beginning and not have any issues,” he said. “We need to communicate so we can work together toward a solution that works for everybody.”
Learn more about the project at www.portnola.com.