Craig Romero named executive director of Port of Iberia _lowres

Advocate file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Port of Iberia Director Roy Pontiff speaks about the port's growth during an interview at the port office Wednesday in New Iberia.

The Port of Iberia Board of Commissioners in a unanimous vote Friday appointed former Iberia Parish President and state Sen. Craig Romero as the port’s executive director.

Romero will be sworn in at the port’s monthly meeting Nov. 18, beginning a three-year term at an annual salary of $115,227. He’ll also receive $800 a month for a vehicle allowance.

“These are exciting times for the oil and gas industry,” Romero said after the special meeting. He said deepwater drilling and production along with increased industry activity in the Gulf of Mexico’s shallower waters bode well for the port’s future.

The terms of Romero’s contract, negotiated over the last several months, stipulate he’ll resign his sales job at Frank’s International. Romero has worked for Frank’s for 20 years.

Another stipulation is that Romero, a licensed insurance broker, must cease seeking new insurance contracts. The board said Romero could continue to receive income from the existing policies he’s written.

Commission President Mark Doré, who with the six other commissioners voted to hire Romero, said he remained wary of Romero chasing new insurance customers. The board has no way of monitoring whether Romero abides by the stipulation, he said.

“It just bothers me,” Doré said. “But I’ll support you.”

Romero said his goals include keeping satisfied the current port tenants, who provide 5,000 jobs. He also will continue the quest for a long-sought federally funded project to deepen the port’s channel to the Gulf.

Former port Executive Director Roy Pontiff has worked since 1999 to secure Corps of Engineers’ approval and federal dollars for the Acadiana Gulf of Mexico Access Channel. Pontiff, who retired in August after 17 years as director, is now one of the port’s commissioners.

Romero, 60, was a state senator from 1992 until 2008, representing Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes. From 1984 to 1992, he was Iberia Parish president, with Pontiff as his chief administrative officer.

Though Romero was signed to a three-year contract, port attorney Raymond Allain said the board could end the contract if it’s unhappy.

“He serves at your discretion,” Allain told the board.

Romero, Pontiff and others across south-central Louisiana support deepening a 50-mile channel to the Gulf. Deepwater oil and gas extraction requires heavy, high-tech topside production decks and components that are too large to be floated down the current channel, which is only about 13 feet deep.

The project through the years has gone through start-and-stop fits. In 2010, port officials learned the project had been halted after its $160 million estimated cost had ballooned past $400 million because traditional crane dredging wasn’t efficient enough. In May, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu announced that legislation had passed that changes the method of digging to the less expensive hydraulic dredging, lowering the estimated cost to an acceptable $160 million.