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Port of South Louisiana’s Matthews says infrastructure bill helps Louisiana and Mississippi ports

Paul Matthews, the new executive director of the Port of South Louisiana, says recent enactment of the new Infrastructure Bill signed by the President and supported by the Louisiana Congressional delegation will help Louisiana and Mississippi ports expand and provide an alternative to congestion at West Coast and East Coast ports.

“We are excited and thankful for the President signing the infrastructure bill into law and for the support from our Louisiana Congressional delegation … for getting that bill passed. We don’t want to be stagnant on the Lower Mississippi river … So, when you look at the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) and look at expanding these locks on the rivers you can see that industry and the environment can go hand in hand and maximize the movement of cargo and reduce the carbon footprint. Companies are willing to pay … to do this. And on the Mississippi River and on the Gulf Coast we want to demonstrate that we are a viable alternative to port congestion on the West and East Coast. “

The Port has a national impact: “We connect 33 states through the Mississippi River and its tributaries so anytime we can have more efficient lock and dam systems to move cargo up and down the river it really expands the economic might of the Mississippi River and the amount of cargo we can move up and down.”

Paul Matthews - executive director at Port of South Louisiana
Paul Matthews - executive director at Port of South Louisiana

Validating Matthews assertion was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announcement on January 19th that it will fund the following inland navigation construction projects utilizing $2.22 billion from the Infrastructure Bill.

According to Waterways Council Inc, which represents waterways operators, these projects will now be funded:

  • Kentucky Lock (Tennessee River): $465.49 million (funded to completion)
  • Montgomery Lock (Ohio River): $857.71 million (funded to completion)
  • Lock and Dam 25 (Upper Mississippi River) (Navigation & Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP): $732 million (funded to completion)
  • Three Rivers (Arkansas River): $109.15 million (spend plan summary lists this as funded to completion, but the project is authorized for $184.39 million)
  • T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam (Illinois Waterway), (Major Rehabilitation): $52.52 million (funded to completion)

Matthews says a major advantage of transporting products on the inland waterways is the environmental component: transporting by the water means much less fuel required by towboats than consumed by trucks or locomotives and so less emissions: “Anytime you can move cargo on water it’s far more environmentally friendly than moving it on land. And many cargo owners are looking to improve their environmental footprint.”

Matthews previously served as deputy director at the Port of Plaquemines where he helped negotiate multi-million-dollar terminal leases and helped develop a private-public partnership to expand rail service. He began his port career at the Port of New Orleans.

In an interview with AJOT, Matthews said he was focused on:

  • Dealing with agriculture and the market
  • Infrastructure needs
  • Focusing in on long-term energy transitions

Right now, “we move 100 million short tons of grain … 60% of the nation’s grain exports come out of our Port. But we can’t rest on our laurels and … so we are now looking at building a brand new $600 million grain terminal which will be the first new grain terminal built in Louisiana in almost 40 years … This terminal will boost our throughput of grain by 10% and will be a state-of-the-art facility and environmentally friendly and up to EPA standards. The complex is being built by Greenfield LLC … the company has completed $100 million investments in soft costs, and they are finalizing permits right now. This is a private development.”

The Port supports infrastructure spending for flood protection: “We are protecting our facilities by supporting the West Shore Levee Project to get us up to 100-year flood levee protection … That project broke ground several months ago. The project is moving forward thanks to the efforts of the Louisiana Congressional delegation. We, at the Port, recognize that our developments need to be protected and minimize risk to riverfront communities in St Charles, St Johns, and St James Parishes. The levee is 17.5 miles long.”

According to a July 2021 Engineering News Record report: “It’s taken over five decades, a fast-tracking of federal funds and over two years of surveying, acquiring and clearing land, but on July 26, Federal, State and local officials finally broke ground on a levee project along the western shores of Lake Pontchartrain designed to provide hurricane and storm protection to a three-parish area where 60,000 people have little to no defenses in place.”

Matthews notes that the Port of South Louisiana is an oil and gas importer and exporter: “We have 115 million tons of petrochemical products that come through our Port, operated by companies such as Shell, Valero, and Marathon that operate with refineries that move about 1.1 million barrels per day.”

He noted that infrastructure projects to support better roads to the Port and the community are also important and noted three priorities:

Widening Louisiana State Highway 3127 from a two-lane highway to a four-lane highway to relieve congestion and improve capacity and cargo moves located in St. James Parish.

In St. Johns Parish “we want to add an additional interstate exit to connect to the Port of South Louisiana Airport and for our trucks’ access to the Port’s Global Plex facility.”

In St. Charles Parish there is proposal to fund a proposed I-310 flyover ramp aimed at easing traffic congestion on U.S. Highway 90 “that would increase truck efficiency in and out of our port.”

He is hopeful that projects will soon be built: “We have discussed these projects with the Louisiana delegation to make sure those projects are properly funded.”

The Globalplex Intermodal Terminal is a deep-draft bulk terminal dedicated to handling materials including cement, mineral ores, and woodchips. The Terminal is a public terminal, owned by the Port of South Louisiana and operated by Associated Terminals for both vessels and barges that provide handling and storage for bulk, breakbulk, and containerized cargoes. From Panamax vessels to inland barges, the dock is capable of moving cargo to open or covered storage warehouses, from ship to barge, truck, or intermodal rail transfer. The terminal is served by Canadian National (CN) and Kansas City Southern (KCS) railroads and all major trucking and freight companies.

Matthews said the facility has just invested $15 million in new cargo-handling cranes and will also be investing in widening the access road to the facility and strengthening the facility’s dock.

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis

WEST COAST CORRESPONDENT

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