Louisiana Governor Has Aggressive Port, Waterways Agenda

Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry signed a bill on June 11 to enact a key part of his aggressive economic development agenda for his state—a plan in which a revamp of ports and waterways policy plays a big role. Landry’s agenda aims to leverage the experience of private industry players to “operate at the speed of business” and overcome what he has portrayed as a tangle of siloed agencies and authorities, pointless port rivalries and bureaucratic deadlock. Landry has called for a more coordinated, better focused statewide economic development policy.

The new law, SB 494, titled “Positioning Louisiana to Win,” modernizes the organizational structure of Louisiana Economic Development (LED) so it can better attract new business and more effectively support businesses already invested in the state, according to the governor. On the same day, LED’s secretary, Susan B. Bourgeois, announced her senior leadership team, which adds extensive private sector, economic development and change management experience at a pivotal moment in the agency’s history.

“Today, we signed bills into law that will open Louisiana’s economy and bring about much-needed government reform,” Landry’s office posted on Facebook. “I appreciate the legislators and stakeholders who made this possible! We are on the path to making Louisiana a state as good as her people!”

SB 494 establishes a private sector-led board—the Louisiana Economic Development Partnership (LEDP)—to craft an economic development strategic plan and advise on policies, programs and initiatives that promote economic growth in the state. The law eliminates the former statutory requirement that the governor appoint an assistant secretary and undersecretary.

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Message of Change

On April 24, James “J.T.” Hannan, Landry’s representative and southeast director for governmental affairs, delivered a blunt message to attendees at the Greater New Orleans Barge Fleeting Association’s River and Marine Industry Seminar: “The status quo for ports and waterways in this state is not working.” He said Landry’s intention was to change it.

Landry was elected governor in October 2023 when he received 51 percent of the vote in a crowded open primary field of 14 candidates. Landry got his start in public service as a police officer in the Village of Parks. He later served as a member of Congress, representint St. Martinville, and as the state’s attorney general.  He took the oath of office as the state’s 57th governor in January.

Transition Councils

 Landry appointed 14 transitional councils to develop and guide various parts of his agenda. Many were staffed by current or former members of the barge industry and waterways community. Shane Guidry, chairman of the board and CEO for HIM Corporation, chaired Landry’s transition committee. Guidry is the third generation in his family to lead Harvey Gulf and has been the CEO of the company since 1997.

The Council for Economic Development and Fiscal Policy was led by Bollinger Shipyards CEO Ben Bordelon. Another council for New Orleans was led by former Bollinger CEO Boysie Bollinger. Marc Hebert, a maritime attorney with Jones Walker and a co-organizer of the GNOBFA seminar, served on the Infrastructure Council, along with other industry leaders, and Hebert was also the team lead for the council’s Multimodal Team, which included ports and waterways. “Louisiana’s ports were a major topic of discussion” in several other councils as well, Hannan said. 

Infrastructure And Ports Agenda

Each of the advisory councils released agendas in January just before Landry’s inaugural speech. The Infrastructure Transition Council’s statement said, “The council believes there is a need for revolutionary change to modernize [the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development] into a more agile and responsive agency led by a dynamic and aggressive secretary closely aligned with the governor’s stated vision that the status quo is unacceptable.”

Among the list of 13 action items the Infrastructure Council recommended are the following:

• Replace the five outdated movable bridges operated by DOTD on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW). These bridges have been identified as “most critical/in need of replacement” to facilitate safe and efficient inland maritime transportation and storm evacuation.

• Establish an advisory task force that includes the DOTD’s bridges office, the Louisiana Association of Waterways Operators, the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association and the local DOTD offices—including the U.S. Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers in an advisory capacity—to develop a strategic plan within 45 days for maintenance and bridge replacement.

• Establish a “one-stop shop” for all permits. This state “czar” should define exact requirements and institute timelines before projects start.

• Retain and fully fund the current Port Priority Program for small and non-deep-draft ports.

• Establish a Port Advisory Committee (PAC).

• Mandate the PAC to develop a Port Strategic Plan (PSP) to submit to the PMC commissioner and meet at least semi-annually to approve the strategic plan and make annual updates, with approval by no less than a two-thirds vote.

• Set a goal of increasing state port funding from $40 million per year to $150 million per year, with $100 million for the six deep-draft ports and $50 million for other ports.

• Immediately take steps to install navigational safety aids on Lower Mississippi River bridges. This likely refers to, among other things, air gap sensors, the installation of which has been a longtime priority for Mississippi River pilots. Only two of the six bridges between New Orleans and Baton Rouge have NOAA P.O.R.T.S. Real Time Air Gap Sensors.