St. Bernard Parish Challenges Port NOLA Jurisdiction

Perry Nicosia, the district attorney for St. Bernard Parish, the community immediately downriver from New Orleans, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the parish government that challenges the jurisdictional authority for the Port of New Orleans (Port NOLA) to move forward with construction of the Louisiana International Terminal, a new container terminal Port NOLA plans to build in the St. Bernard community of Violet.

“The lawsuit sets forth facts, and it’s our opinion and belief, based on all the submissions we submitted to the court, that Port NOLA simply does not have jurisdiction to operate a shipping container facility in St. Bernard Parish,” Nicosia said during an August 4 press conference.

Nicosia, speaking outside his office, was surrounded by other St. Bernard elected officials, including Parish President Guy McInnis and Sheriff James Pohlmann, along with members of the parish council and his district attorney staff.

“I’d like to thank President McInnis,” Nicosia said. “He is really grateful and certainly standing behind us, as well as every councilman up here.”

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Nicosia indicated the motivation for the lawsuit is twofold: to challenge Port NOLA’s authority to operate in St. Bernard Parish and to firmly establish the St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District as the parish’s rightful port authority.
“We have our own port here,” Nicosia said. “We pay taxes to our port here, and we expect our port to operate within the borders of St. Bernard Parish, as was created by the legislature.”

The Louisiana Legislature established the Port of New Orleans, along with its tri-parish jurisdiction covering the parishes of Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard, in Act 70 of 1896. As such, Port NOLA is a state entity.

However, according to the lawsuit, Act 228 of 1960, which established the St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District as a state entity, effectively subtracted St. Bernard Parish from Port NOLA’s jurisdiction. Furthermore, the lawsuit points to a section of Act 40 of 1992, which designated that Port NOLA’s board of commissioners “shall regulate the commerce and traffic of the port and harbor of New Orleans in such manner as may, in its judgment, be best for the maintenance and development thereof.”

“Act 40 of 1992 could have, but did not, reauthorize the jurisdiction to extend to the ‘Greater New Orleans,’ which could be interpreted, as a referent, to include the parishes of Orleans, St. Bernard and Jefferson,” Part III Paragraph 22 of the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also quotes another section of Act 40 of 1992, which amended La. R.S. 34:1701 to state that the board of commissioners for the St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District “shall have complete jurisdiction” to regulate waterborne commerce in the parish “where such commerce is conducted by or through a facility wholly owned by the district.”

In question is whether the phrase “a facility wholly owned by the district” prohibits Port NOLA from acquiring and operating its own facility within St. Bernard Parish. And whereas the lawsuit argues the 1992 legislation narrows Port NOLA’s jurisdiction, the port’s board of commissioners remains statutorily required to carry members from St. Bernard, Orleans and Jefferson parishes, according to its tri-parish jurisdiction dating to 1896.

The lawsuit calls on the Thirty-Fourth Judicial District for the Parish of St. Bernard to enjoin Port NOLA from operating within St. Bernard Parish, based on the argument that Port NOLA lacks jurisdiction in the parish. Further, the lawsuit calls on the court to transfer any property currently owned by the Port of New Orleans in St. Bernard Parish to the St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District. The parish also calls on the court to render null and void any permits, applications or contracts related to the new container terminal and to declare a cooperative endeavor agreement between Port NOLA and the St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District invalid.

In response to the lawsuit, Port NOLA President and CEO Brandy Christian released the following statement: “We are aware of the filing and will review and respond in due course. However, any challenge to the Port of New Orleans’ jurisdiction to operate an international marine terminal in St. Bernard Parish is meritless.”

In a previously released statement, Christian called the lawsuit “election year theatrics,” with a full slate of St. Bernard Parish officials on the ballot for later this year.

Christian went on to highlight the port’s efforts to gather public input and support for the planned $1.8 billion container terminal in Violet. Ultimately, the project will benefit St. Bernard, Christian said.

“The economic benefits of this project to St. Bernard and the state cannot be understated, bringing family-supporting jobs, opportunities and tax revenues that will multiply locally and statewide for generations to come,” she said.

Current estimates are for the project to create more than 4,300 new jobs and nearly $760 million in tax revenues for St. Bernard Parish and more than 18,500 new jobs and $1 billion in tax revenue for the state, Christian said.

“The development of the project is a priority for the state of Louisiana, evidenced by vocal support from the highest levels of state government, including millions of dollars of state funding, as well as an $800 million commitment from private global industry leaders in support of this project,” she said.

The new terminal is needed, Christian argued, based on air gap restrictions in New Orleans.

“For decades, it has been clear that a new container terminal is needed downriver from the Crescent City Connection Bridge in order to secure the future of the state’s trade-based economy and to make Louisiana the premier shipping gateway in the Gulf,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s situations like this that have left Louisiana struggling to compete with neighboring states.”

Since announcing the planned terminal in 2020, Port NOLA has faced some opposition within St. Bernard, most vocally from a group called “Save Our St. Bernard.” Despite that opposition, the project has garnered support locally and statewide, notably from Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. Last December, the port announced private support from Ports America and Terminal Investment Limited, along with an $800 million commitment for the project.

Just last month, Port NOLA commissioners approved about $8 million in contracts to continue moving the project forward.

New Orleans has already secured the property for the planned container terminal, which totals close to 1,100 acres. Contained in that is about 81 acres that formerly belonged to an entity called the Violet Dock Port and about 8 acres on the river formerly owned by the St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District.