Port Of South Louisiana Denies Record Request, Cites ‘Active Negotiations’
Two weeks after the Port of South Louisiana announced an agreement with T. Parker Host to buy Avondale Global Gateway—the former Avondale shipyard on the west bank of the Mississippi River in Jefferson Parish—questions remain regarding the agreed-to purchase price and the process the port’s board of commissioners followed that led to a unanimous vote endorsing the acquisition.
Host bought the 254-acre property from Huntington Ingalls in 2018 for $60 million and has since invested more than $100 million to convert the former shipyard into a multimodal terminal.
Many current and former legislators and local business leaders have questioned the enormous price tag—$445 million—that the port intends to cover through bonds.
“The port hired Cook, Moore, Davenport & Associates to conduct a third-party appraisal, which valued the property at $445 million,” the Port of South Louisiana said in a statement released January 17. “As a state entity, the port is unable to make any purchase above fair market value.”
However, when asked to produce a copy of the valuation done by the Baton Rouge, La.-based real estate appraiser, the port declined. Richard Passler, a partner with the New Orleans-based law firm Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, sent The Waterways Journal a letter dated January 24 denying that request, citing the fact that the port “remains in ‘active negotiations’ as defined by the exception” outlined in Louisiana’s public records law. “Accordingly, any documents that would be responsive to your request are not subject to disclosure under the [public records law] at this time,” Passler concluded.
The WJ requested a copy of the appraisal, the purchase agreement between the Port of South Louisiana and T. Parker Host” and “any other feasibility study or studies” the port conducted for the site.
Previously, the port has cited a non-disclosure agreement and ongoing negotiations as the reason why it hadn’t informed the Port of New Orleans, which has jurisdiction over Avondale, of the plan. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has stated that even he was unaware of the plan.
The port has stated that it will not release any of the documents related to the purchase or appraisal of the property prior to submitting a bond application in mid-February.
Questions have also been raised over how the port publicized the January 9 special commission meeting during which its board voted to authorize the purchase agreement. A single item of business was listed on the announcement of that meeting: an executive session for “strategy sessions or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining, prospective litigation after formal written demand, or litigation when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the bargaining or litigating position of the public body.”
For now, the port is “currently meeting with local stakeholders to provide information and garner support,” said Micah Cormier, director of communications for the port. “The port is also meeting with state and federal officials on various funding streams.”
Assuming support from the state’s bond commission, Cormier said Port of South Louisiana leaders anticipate closing on the property this summer. Reportedly, according to the agreement, Host will be retained as the terminal operator.