After being closed for roughly three weeks following Hurricane Ida, Lockport-based Bollinger reopened all of its locations after repairing millions in damage at its Louisiana shipyards.
The company had temporarily shuttered its Fourchon, Houma, Larose, Lockport and Morgan City locations after suffering "significant damage" but kept open its Amelia, Algiers, Mandeville, Harvey and Matthews sites.
"The storm was definitely the worst one that we had seen so far as a company," said Ben Bordelon, chief executive officer of Bollinger. "We knew it was going to be bad, but we got punched in the face."
The business prepared before the hurricane made landfall, securing materials across the shipyards and floating vessels in the water. Salvage companies and construction vendors were on standby for repair work.
Satellite imagery collected after the hurricane shows damage to roofs and various buildings with debris scattered around the shipyards. There was debris along the roads. For weeks, the region was without power, water and cellphone service.
Entergy and the South Louisiana Electric Co-op Association was able to restore power by the end of September.
"We learned in years past you can't afford to wait for insurance to start making decisions; you have to document (the damage), take a lot of pictures, and right away implement action plans," Bordelon said. "At the beginning, debris was one thing; you couldn't move around then the power was out, so that was challenging. Then came the traffic and the problem getting fuel."
For the first week after the storm, when many of the employees' homes were still in various levels of disarray, Bollinger paid everyone whether they were able to work or not. Then the company started an employee assistance fund and raised $400,000 for direct aid payments for workers struggling to rebuild after the storm. The fund is administered by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and the company expects to keep it operational in case of another natural disaster.
As crews came back to work, the company partnered with Rouses to feed workers lunch and offer bottled water. The shipyards were running on generators for a while because there was a lack of gasoline and diesel statewide days after the storm. Bollinger had to repair some of the electrical grid connected to its facilities.
Most of the company's 1,500 employee workforce has returned but some individuals are still evacuated due to home or apartment damage. Housing availability is very tight in the region even for those who do want to return. Many employees are staying with friends or family in the area.
In the meantime, Bollinger is hiring for various jobs.
"The main goal for us was to get people back to work and also take care of our clients, we need to keep delivering vessels and hold the delivery schedules," Bordelon said. "We want to have an internal win, it would be a huge accomplishment for us."
The company is on track to still deliver ahead of schedule for the U.S. Coast Guard Fast Response cutter program, which requires about 650 workers on the production line.