Public ports affect the lives of Louisianans every day. New Orleans grew up around the port, which served as a gateway from North America to the rest of the world and provided access up the Mississippi River. Today, there are more than thirty public port facilities in the State of Louisiana, providing twenty percent of the State’s jobs. Louisiana’s deep-water, coastal, and inland ports work together to support global trade, enable the energy and agricultural industry, and drive local economies.
It is against this backdrop that the Louisiana Supreme Court considered St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District v. Violet Dock Port, Inc., LLC. The case concerns a land acquisition by St. Bernard Port. Recently, lawyers from a national political advocacy group have argued that the Louisiana Supreme Court should overturn the expropriation of a piece of property that is essential to St. Bernard Port’s growth and success.
For over 35 years, St. Bernard Port has operated that area's only public port. The Port’s operations are limited to a ten-mile stretch of the East Bank of the Mississippi River. In 2007, the Port was operating at capacity, handling more than four million tons of cargo annually and turning away cargo to other states. In 2009, the Port handled almost six million tons of cargo. Needing to expand, it tried to purchase a property downriver owned by several businessmen as an investment property. For 40 years, that property had been used to dock ships for repair and to dock military vessels. The landowners described the property as a “parking lot for ships.” The activities at the property employed three people, at most. Unlike St. Bernard Port, the property never offered cargo handling services nor had it generated any revenue from cargo operations.
The owners initially agreed to sell the property for $14 million, but backed out of the deal. In 2010, St. Bernard Port began legal proceedings for the Port’s expansion to handle additional cargo. Now in 2017, hundreds of ships have called upon the site, and the Port is set to handle over one million tons of cargo at the site this year. The Port has invested over $2 million developing the property, and the facility has created 35 jobs.
The businessmen have wrongly portrayed their “parking lot for ships” as a competitor of the Port and assert that the Port took the property to “halt competition” between them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every court that has heard the evidence has held that the Port took the property in furtherance of its state-mandated mission and for the constitutional purpose of furthering cargo operations, and not to “halt competition.”
In arguing what is best for the people of Louisiana, these few businessmen and the national political group ignore the specific constitutional grants of authority for ports in this state and the critical nature of ports in Louisiana. It is critical that ports be allowed to expand to meet national and global demand.
executive director, Ports Association of Louisiana