Image by Markus Distelrath from Pixabay

Without making a decision, Sen Cassidy acknowledged the arguments of St Bernard Parish for the proposed port with out committing himself.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy weighed in on the Port of New Orleans’ controversial expansion plans on Thursday, voicing concern for the issues raised by St. Bernard Parish residents who oppose the building of a container port in Violet but stopping short of backing their cause. Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, was one of the few Republicans to vote in favor of the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and has argued specifically that Louisiana should push to get a share of the $11.8 billion earmarked nationally for port and waterway improvements. On Thursday, Cassidy held closed door meetings with Port Nola executives to discuss both the opposition to the planned expansion, which entails building a massive $1.5 billion container port at the current site of the St. Bernard Port, as well as Louisiana’s broader infrastructure strategy. After the meeting, Cassidy said via a spokesman that he “clearly conveyed the concerns he has heard from members of the St. Bernard community about how this project may impact the surrounding area (and) encouraged port leadership to listen to those in the parish and be proactive in addressing their complaints.” He declined to comment further about whether or not he supports the expansion plans as they currently stand.

At some point he will have to decide and make his opinion known. Another spot was in Plaquemains Parish but that site seems to have gone out of favor. New Orleans is ranked as a container port but then need more space not available here in New Orleans.

Port Nola’s oversight board in December approved the purchase of 1,100 acres adjacent to St. Bernard Port, where it plans to develop the new container ship terminal. At the same time it embarked on a two-year due diligence and community engagement process to win over local politicians, business leaders, and residents. It has started the process of acquiring the targeted land. Meanwhile, the COVID pandemic has emphasized the opportunity for expanded Gulf Coast ports as the huge West Coast gateway ports for Asian trade have become so congested that a record queue of ships has built up in recent months, waiting to unload cargo at Los Angeles, Long Beach and other facilities.

There is, of course, opposition and one big reason is the congestion that the container carrying trucks will cause as they head to I-10.

The group of residents who oppose the port expansion, which has been dubbed the Louisiana International Terminal, said community support for their efforts has grown. Robby Showalter, who is leading the group Stop the Destruction of St. Bernard, said they now have more than 8,000 signatures to their petition, nearly 20% of the parish’s total population. “We are grateful to Senator Cassidy for standing with the people, but the fact is that the Port of New Orleans has done little to address, much less consider, our concerns,” said Showalter. “They are bulldozing our community that does not want their millions of trucks on our roads, their pollution in our air, and their massive container yard smack in the middle of our neighborhoods.” Stop the Destruction argues there are better locations for a container terminal further downriver, such as Plaquemines Port, which is in a sparsely populated area though it doesn’t have the same proximity to rail links as St. Bernard.  “Senator Cassidy and all our elected officials ought to demand the port put aside its parochial interests and do what’s right for the state’s economy and its people,” said Showalter.

Rendering of the proposed $1.5 billion container terminal at Violet, St. Bernard Parish
Courtesy Port of New Orleans

The project does have high level support as it is an economic plan.

Port Nola has garnered support from local officials, including St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis, and from Gov. John Bel Edwards. As the opposition grew, Port Nola CEO Brandy Christian said there was no time to waste as New Orleans already has lost ground to rival Gulf Coast ports, such as Houston and Mobile, Alabama. Those ports have considerably grown container ship market share over the past decade compared Port Nola. Port Nola officials on Thursday also were non-committal about whether Cassidy explicitly supports the LIT expansion plan. “Port Nola and St. Bernard Port officials met with Senator Cassidy to discuss the project’s status, its benefits to the region and state, and to address community concerns and solutions to mitigating those issues,” said Matt Gresham, Port Nola’s director of external affairs, in an e-mail. “The support of all involved is critical to the success of delivering the infrastructure needed to support St. Bernard Parish and the terminal project and we look forward to continuing to work with local, state and federal officials to do that.”

Progress and change are often not approved of but as I have heard is “the only constant in the world today is change”. Also there is no water proximity land that is not populated today. The chance of building in a “wilderness” is no longer there. We can only hope a decision is made and the roads can hold the traffic.

Sen Cassidy comments on NOLA port expansion