by Mike McCann
Plans have been in the works since 2008 to build a first-of-its-kind mega-port just three miles off the coast of Plaquemines Parish for a quarter of a billion dollars capable of handling some of the biggest cargo ships in the world. The Louisiana International Deepwater Gulf Transfer Terminal Authority announced building plans on Monday, August 31, 2015. The project’s first phase is fully financed by private funding and is expected to be operational by the third quarter of 2016.
This Private-Public Partnership (P3), was approved by Act 471 of the 2014 Louisiana Legislature to develop a multi-faceted water based port/terminal facility. The dry bulk transfer terminal is the first of multiple project “verticals” planned. Complete development will include facilities to serve the dry bulk, liquid bulk, hydrocarbons, container, and LNG industries in coordination with shippers and ports in the central and upper United States and the Gulf of Mexico.
The transfer terminal will be strategically situated on 2,250 acres in the Gulf of Mexico with strategic access to maritime highways and the Mississippi River. Officials estimate more than 20,000 jobs will be created. “It's about bringing people back, providing them jobs, high paying jobs, good jobs,” said Sen. A.G. Crowe, who serves as President of the La. International Deepwater Gulf Transfer Terminal.
State lawmakers said they do not expect the mega port to interfere with the Port of New Orleans, though the Port of New Orleans openly disagrees. "What this project is outside the [Mississippi] river, so that regardless of how big the ships get they will be able to unload their cargo in Louisiana, and then we'll feed them up in other vessels up the river to other ports,” Crowe said.
Ultimately, all phases of the offshore port would cost $10 billion. And backers bill it as a facility that will strengthen use of the U.S. maritime system. And in the post-9/11 world, they said having offshore mega-ports makes sense from a security standpoint.
"If you had offshore ports, offshore on the West Coast, offshore on the East Coast and, yes, one even in the Gulf of Mexico. As those smart bombs might come in they wouldn't detonate and destroy a whole city, they might detonate and destroy the offshore port,” said Tom Thornhill, co-manager of the project.
“Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories determined that offshore mega-ports need to be built to provide maritime security for America. I have suggested that we develop this first mega-port in the Gulf of Mexico, one division at a time,” Thornhill said in a news release.
"It all led to an idea put out on a napkin at a restaurant in Belle Chasse, and basically said what are we doing for the Panama Canal?" State Senator A.G. Crowe of Slidell, port board chairman said.
Right now the Panama Canal is being expanded to handle the larger ships being built today. Ships too big to navigate the Mississippi River could reach the new offshore port.
"The big ships come to our hub and unload onto smaller ships, sometimes called brown-blue water ships that navigate all the way up the Mississippi, even into the Ohio River." said port co-manager Tom Thornhill.
But directors say a key concern in the post-9/11 era is terrorism, safety and security, and the new port takes customs inspections out of the city to an offshore port.
The Port of Plaquemines is one of the largest seaports in America located on the mouth of the Mississippi River near Belle Chasse, about 20 miles south of New Orleans.
As merchant ships get bigger, the Panama Canal enlarges, new solutions are required. The mega-port in Plaquemines Parish is designed to meet the future conveniently just three miles off the Louisiana coast.