In response to complaints that the agency has been neglecting Jefferson Parish, the Port of New Orleans’ board of commissioners agreed Thursday to establish a task force dedicated to increasing commerce along the Mississippi River in Jefferson.
Officials said they are optimistic the action will help see the parish’s vacant riverfront land transformed into everything from new import-export yards to landings for upscale river cruises, creating new jobs, attracting more visitors and boosting economic development.
Thursday’s measure culminated a saga that began a few months ago when parish President Mike Yenni asked state Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, to file a bill authorizing the LaPlace-based Port of South Louisiana to share the responsibility of regulating river traffic and commerce in Jefferson with the Port of New Orleans.
The Port of New Orleans includes Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes, but Yenni’s top aide, Keith Conley, said the parish was disappointed with the level of commercial activity occurring along the river in Jefferson.
Conley said Yenni had developed a relationship with the Port of South Louisiana when he was mayor of Kenner. He said allowing that port — which has jurisdiction in St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes — to operate in Jefferson as well might help the parish realize some goals sooner.
Those objectives range from redeveloping the empty Avondale Shipyard — where thousands of local workers built ships for more than seven decades before the site closed in late 2014 — to ensuring the popular Viking River Cruises line makes stops in Jefferson when it begins doing business in New Orleans in 2017, Conley said.
Conley said Stokes’ bill caught the attention of the New Orleans port. Port officials reached out to leaders in Jefferson and began communicating on how to better serve that parish, Conley said.
As a result, Stokes pulled her bill and instead introduced a measure calling for the Port of New Orleans’ master plan to include studying the use of property in Kenner and elsewhere in Jefferson for “development, facilities and activities.” That measure is pending in the House.
The port’s board Thursday approved a resolution requesting Yenni to appoint seven members to a task force that will meet with port officials four times a year to discuss potential opportunities in Jefferson. The majority of the parish’s appointees should be “professionals who are well-versed in maritime trade and services,” the resolution said.
The resolution also generally called for “more collaboration” between the New Orleans port and Jefferson, described in the measure as “a logical opportunity for growth and partnership capabilities.”
In a statement, Port of New Orleans CEO Gary LaGrange said Thursday’s resolution marked the return of “happy days” between his agency and Jefferson.
Yenni promised that the parish would “get creative” and “exhaust every option” available to develop Jefferson’s riverfront.