Energy industry demands spur growth of ports throughout central Gulf region

By: | at 02:34 PM | Channel(s): Energy News  Ports & Terminals  Liner Shipping  

Propelled to a great extent by growing energy industry demands and the need to handle increasing volumes of other bulk commodities, ports of the mid-Gulf region – already among the nation’s busiest – are experiencing an activity boom, with billions of dollars of both public- and private-sector investments.

The central Gulf region continues to be home to six of the 14 busiest U.S. ports. According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data for total cargo volume, the Port of South Louisiana retains its longtime ranking as the nation’s No. 1 total tonnage port, with four other Louisiana ports making the list: New Orleans, No. 4; Baton Rouge, No. 10; Plaquemines, No. 11; and Lake Charles, No. 14. The Alabama State Port Authority’s Port of Mobile ranks No. 13. Starting in Alabama and heading westward across Mississippi and Louisiana, here’s the latest at ports of the central Gulf region:

Alabama State Port Authority

To expand market reach and services for shippers utilizing APM Terminals Mobile (see separate story on APM Terminals Mobile on page 1), the Alabama State Port Authority has begun construction of an intermodal container transfer facility, which is being funded in part by a $12 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The $36 million first phase of the ICTF, when complete by the end of 2015, is to provide a 20-acre intermodal rail yard with two support tracks and one runaround track totaling 12,200 linear feet. The project also includes a 1,225-linear-foot rail bridge linking the facility to five Class I railroads and the authority’s Terminal Railway.

Alabama Steel Terminals’ new facility for handling steel coil begins to take shape at the Port of Mobile.
Alabama Steel Terminals’ new facility for handling steel coil begins to take shape at the Port of Mobile.

Another key project is a $36 million steel-coil-handling facility. Alabama Steel Terminals’ first phase is to deliver by yearend a 178,200-square-foot covered bay area equipped with three 50-ton-capacity overhead bridge cranes and a 168,000-square-foot open storage yard capable of handling some 650,000 tons of steel annually. A second phase bodes to furnish 194,400 square feet of additional bay area equipped with three more 50-ton-capacity overhead bridge cranes. Port of Pascagoula

In Mississippi, another TIGER grant, this one for $14 million, is helping advance a rail relocation project that is a key component of an intermodal endeavor that is to include a marine export terminal for wood pellet exports at the Port of Pascagoula.

While the rail project aims to provide improved access to the Port of Pascagoula, local Mississippi governments, including Jackson County, the City of Moss Point and the City of Pascagoula, should benefit significantly from the elimination of rail crossings, relocation of switching track and reduction in truck traffic. The short line Mississippi Export Railroad and CSX Transportation are the primary rail partners for the project. The existing rail configuration routes Mississippi Export trains through the cities of Moss Point and Pascagoula before interchanging with CSX to gain access to the port.

In addition, the project to widen the Port of Pascagoula’s entrance channel to 550 feet from 450 feet is on target to commence in July. Two dredged material disposal sites for the Pascagoula River Harbor have recently been completed.

Mississippi State Port Authority

At the Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport, a $570 million restoration and improvement project, begun after 2005 Hurricane Katrina destruction with funding from the federal Community Development Block Grant program, is moving forward toward 2016 completion.

The bulk carrier KT Condor discharges ilmenite ore for DuPont at the Mississippi State Port Authority’s Port of Gulfport.
The bulk carrier KT Condor discharges ilmenite ore for DuPont at the Mississippi State Port Authority’s Port of Gulfport.

More than $250 million in construction is to be under way by the end of 2015, including on a new bulk-handling facility for DuPont, which is investing $60 million, having inked a 60-year agreement; 250,000 square feet of transit shed space; chiller facilities for Dole Fresh Fruit Co.; rail upgrades and other site expansion. Also, the port is preparing to award a contract for three ship-to-shore gantry cranes. The first phase of wharf reconstruction is slated for completion this summer as part of a $58 million West Pier upgrade. The port recently finished a $2 million security gate complex at the West Terminal and is nearly done with a $5 million East Pier rail track extension. New port tenants include Gulf Coast Shipyard Group Inc., for operations to support offshore supply vessels fueled by liquefied natural gas, and McDermott International Inc., for offshore pipe production and a marine operations base.

Plaquemines Port

Encompassing 81 miles along the lower Mississippi River, the Plaquemines Port, Harbor and Terminal District has entered its second year as a freestanding entity apart from Plaquemine Parish and in August brought aboard Maynard J. “Sandy” Sanders, formerly deputy director at Port Corpus Christi, as executive director.

Priorities at Plaquemines Port, which already ranks among the top 11 U.S. tonnage ports, include infrastructure development through public-private partnerships, including on nearly 2,000 acres of greenfield property available for warehousing and distribution and a full spectrum of cargo-handling functions, looking to capitalize upon the port’s location as closest to the mouth of the Mississippi River.

A bulk coal carrier is loaded at Kinder Morgan’s International Marine Terminal facility at Myrtle Grove, Louisianna, in Plaquemines Port.
A bulk coal carrier is loaded at Kinder Morgan’s International Marine Terminal facility at Myrtle Grove, Louisianna, in Plaquemines Port.

Kinder Morgan has recently expanded its International Marine Terminal coal-handling facility, while Armstrong Coal-backed RAM Terminals is in the permitting stage on 500 acres for a coal export terminal. Another key facility is that of United Bulk Terminal, with a dry bulk terminal on more than 1,100 acres. In addition to coal, other facilities within the port district handle grain, bulk liquid storage, and petroleum product refining and processing.

St. Bernard Port

Farther up the river toward New Orleans, the St. Bernard Port, Harbor and Terminal District has acquired a new terminal in Violet, La., adding 4,300 linear feet of river frontage and four berths, with more than 36 acres on the landside of the levee available for future development.

A log ship is loaded at a new facility of the St. Bernard Port, Harbor and Terminal District.
A log ship is loaded at a new facility of the St. Bernard Port, Harbor and Terminal District.

Expanding its ability to serve the forest products industry, St. Bernard Port has added an 11-acre processing yard, capable of filling two ships per month, at its Chalmette Terminal and Industrial Park, which encompasses a midstream mooring system for transloading cargo to and from barges on 45-foot water depth at Mile Marker 89.5, as well as a 76-acre intermodal facility for liquid bulk tank storage, cleaning, transport and repair. More than 40 businesses already operate in the industrial park, which has 65 riverfront acres available for further development. At the Meraux midstream mooring facility, at Mile Marker 86.5, two sets of mooring buoys – with one system capable of berthing capesize vessels of as many as 1,000 feet in length – enables imported bulk and/or breakbulk cargo to be discharged to barges and exports to be transloaded for cost-saving backhaul.

Port of New Orleans

Chiquita Brands International Inc. is relocating shipping operations to the Port of New Orleans from Gulfport, Miss. According to a May announcement, Chiquita plans, beginning by early 2015, to ship between 30,000 and 39,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units of bananas and other fresh fruit from Central America to New Orleans and export a similar amount of paperboard and plastic resins for the company’s packaging operations. The new weekly service should boost Port of New Orleans container volume by about 15 percent.

TCI Plastics announced a month earlier that it plans to invest $36.5 million in a 500,000-square-foot logistics facility on 32 acres at the port’s France Road property, with the first phase to be ready by third quarter 2015, in support of its exports of containerized plastic resins through the Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal. That terminal, which is adding an ICTF, recently hosted Mediterranean Shipping Co.’s MSC Judith, demonstrating its ability to efficiently work vessels with capacities of 9,000 TEUs or more.

Also, to take advantage of increasing trade opportunities, agreement has been reached with Mumbai-based Samsara Shipping Pvt. Ltd. to represent the Port of New Orleans in India.

Port Manchac

On the north side of Lake Pontchartrain, the Port Manchac intermodal terminal is in the final plan design phase of its $3 million infrastructure investment program engineered to facilitate additional liquid bulk/crude oil transloading operations at the 140-acre facility, where tenant John W. Stone Oil Distributor LLC already is engaged in transloading.

The South Tangipahoa Parish Port Commission is investing $3 million to further capitalize on an increase in crude oil shipments by rail from Canada by transloading the product into barges at the terminal. Port Manchac is promoting its adjacency to the mainline of the Canadian National Railroad Co. just outside congested rail cargo markets. Product from between 30 and 35 rail cars can be loaded into a barge to bring the cargo to the Mississippi River via Lake Pontchartrain and on to refining terminal customers in Southeast Louisiana and throughout the Gulf region on a regular delivery schedule.

The series of construction projects includes a new barge dock and bulkhead, harbor dredging, laydown storage area improvements and internal roadway improvements to allow around-the-clock operations.

Port of South Louisiana

At the Port of South Louisiana, the Western Hemisphere’s largest tonnage port, where attorney Paul Aucoin succeeded retiring Joel T. Chiasson Sr. as executive director last July, grain exports continue to lead the way, but energy sector activity is seen fueling additional growth. Discussions are under way related to as much as $70 billion in energy company investments along the 54-mile stretch of the Mississippi River within the port’s jurisdiction between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Bulk fertilizer product is loaded from ship to truck at the Port of South Louisiana’s Globalplex Intermodal Terminal.
Bulk fertilizer product is loaded from ship to truck at the Port of South Louisiana’s Globalplex Intermodal Terminal.

The Midwest drought put a bit of a damper on grain tonnage barged down the river in 2013, but the seven grain elevators at the Port of South Louisiana are back to normal busy levels, as is the 700-foot-long, 65-foot-wide finger pier at the port’s Globalplex Intermodal Terminal, which is a hub for transloading activity. Also, the port has completed extension to 5,000 feet of the runway at the airport it owns, so as to better accommodate corporate jets, and future plans include potential container-handling facilities in conjunction with a private industry partner, as well as development of a new port facility on the West Bank of the river in St. Charles Parish.

Port of Greater Baton Rouge

The Port of Greater Baton Rogue is continuing on its expansion roll, including with development by Drax Biomass International Inc. unit Baton Rouge Transit LLC of facilities for bulk storage and export of locally produced wood pellets. The twin domes on a 10-acre port site are to be able to store some 80,000 metric tons of the biomass product following completion of the project in late 2014.

Two 120-foot-tall domes for storage of wood pellets are being developed by Baton Rouge Transit LLC at the Port of Greater Baton
Two 120-foot-tall domes for storage of wood pellets are being developed by Baton Rouge Transit LLC at the Port of Greater Baton

Another major undertaking at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge is Genesis Energy LP’s $150 million terminal for import and export of crude oil and intermediate and refined products on 90 acres connected to existing port deepwater docks on the Mississippi River, as well as to unit-train-capable rail facilities and a nearby ExxonMobil installation. The terminal is on target to be operational by mid-2015. The projects come following the fall 2013 opening at the port by Louis Dreyfus Commodities LLC of a $150 million expanded grain and oilseed export facility capable of annually handling as many as 5 million metric tons of product.

Port Fourchon

At the Greater Lafourche Port Commission’s Port Fourchon, Louisiana’s southernmost port, construction is continuing on a 300-plus-acre expansion of Slip C, including building by the port of 1,400 linear feet of bulkhead for oil services giant Schlumberger Ltd. and 1,600 linear feet of bulkhead for new environmental tenant EcoServe, as well as investments by Bollinger Shipyards Inc. in a 70-acre facility with 2,100 linear feet of waterfront and by Edison Chouest Offshore in a nearly 100-acre service base.

A new Slip D is in the permitting phase, with dredging boding to add another 250 acres, while Slip A is ready for more expansion and the Fourchon Island property is positioned for development of yet another 550 acres in support of the offshore energy industry.

Meanwhile, with support from the State of Louisiana, private industry and the LA 1 Coalition, the first phase of a $320 million roadway project is moving forward, and expansion is continuing at the port commission’s airport in Galliano, La., including Chevron Corp.’s $30 million aviation logistics center that is to facilitate movement of some 6,000 offshore workers a month.

Port of Morgan City

Also along the Louisiana Oil and Gas Port Corridor, the Port of Morgan City is looking to benefit from a realignment of the Atchafalaya River navigational channel between Horseshoe Bend and Crewboar Cut, as authorized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The port is located about 18 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, at the intersection of the Atchafalaya River and Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

The Port of Morgan City, where Raymond M. “Mac” Wade, a former president of the port’s commission, succeeded retiring Jerry L. Hoffpauir as executive director last August, plans include a $9.5 million, 30,000-square-foot, two-level government emergency operations slated to be in place to serve the port and surrounding communities before the 2015 hurricane season. In addition, the port recently accepted delivery of a 32-foot-long, custom-welded security boat thanks to federal port security grant funding.

And Port of Morgan City volume should see an uptick in midsummer, when an as-yet-undisclosed Fortune 500 company is scheduled to begin import-export operations at the port.

Port of Lake Charles

The Port of Lake Charles is in the midst of a 10-year renaissance, increasing efficiencies and augmenting cargo-handling capacity to accommodate industry demand in an area in which private industry is making tens of billions of dollars of investment.

Port of Lake Charles is enhancing cargo-handling capacity and efficiencies.
Port of Lake Charles is enhancing cargo-handling capacity and efficiencies.

Largely due to the port, which encompasses more than 200 square miles of properties along the Calcasieu River Ship Channel, numerous companies have announced megaprojects totaling more than $65 billion in investments. They include energy sector firms Trunkline LNG, Cameron LNG, Lake Charles Clean Energy LLC, Sasol Ltd., G2X Energy, Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd. subsidiary Magnolia LNG, Cheniere Energy Inc. and GLS LLC, as well as Golden Nugget Casino.

Recent improvements at the Port of Lake Charles include a double-loop track system that allows unit trains of as many as 120 rail cars to be unloaded and processed for shipping; a new entrance plaza and front gate; a new ship unloader crane; and IFG Port Holdings LLC’s newly constructed state-of-the-industry grain terminal and elevator.

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American Journal of Transportation

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For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Scott Abbott has been writing and shooting images for the American Journal of Transportation, applying four decades of experience as an award-winning journalist. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a master’s magna cum laude from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Abbott has served as president of chapters of the Propeller Club of the United States, Florida Public Relations Association and Society of Professional Journalists. Abbott honed his skills on several daily newspapers, including [em]The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, Albuquerque Journal and (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, and was editor and publisher of The County Line, a weekly newspaper he founded in suburban Richmond, Va.[/em] A native Chicagoan, he is a member of American Mensa and an ever-optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs.