DECISIONS, DECISIONS

The fate of several important pieces of legislation in both Louisiana and the U.S. Congress will have short-term and long-term impacts upon the Port Community.

By the end of the 2018 legislative session – both on the state and federal levels – a handful of legislative bills will help shape the present and future of waterway commerce along the Mississippi River.

For Port Executive Director Paul Aucoin, the most-pertinent bill is one that is expected to be formally introduced in Washington, D.C., soon, which maps out how roughly $9 billion collected from the Harbor Maintenance Tax fund on imported cargo will be spent. Among various navigable-waterway projects outlined in the still-unnamed bill is the necessary money to dredge the mouth of the Mississippi River from its current depth of 45-feet to 50-feet – a deepening that Aucoin believes is not only desired, but required.    

“I keep stressing in all these Op-Eds I’ve written that this isn’t just a Louisiana problem,” Aucoin said. “It’s a U.S. problem. I’ve felt that way since the first day of taking this job. I think everyone knows it needs to be done. This isn’t important to just the Port or the Port of New Orleans. It’s important to everyone.”

Without the dredging, Aucoin argues that shipping cargo along the Mississippi River can become unreliable and uncompetitive. For instance, a ship fully loaded with cargo might dip to 47 feet in the River, but if that exceeds the depth restriction the shipper would have to send out a “light-load” vessel, resulting in a loss of approximately $1 million per lost foot of depth.

Getting to this point, where there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel for this bill, has been a process for everyone in the port community. Before Congress said it would introduce a Harbor Maintenance Tax spending bill, they asked the American Association of Port Authorities to author a single, agreed-upon funds-allocation proposal. Last year, with Aucoin and other top-end port officials in attendance, the AAPA did exactly that.

“I call it the Full Use Full Maintenance Plan” Aucoin said. “And what I mean by that is, we need to use the entire fund. Don’t save it. Don’t hoard it. And full maintenance means to keep all navigable waterways at their authorized depth. And at that meeting in Washington, I asked, ‘Then does this mean the mouth of the (Mississippi) will be dredged at 50 feet all day, every day?’ And they said, ‘yes.’”

“That was very important to me,” said Aucoin.

A little closer to home, Port officials and those companies that specialize in maritime commerce here in Louisiana are keeping an eye on the outcome of three bills proposed in the state House of Representatives.

Louisiana House Bill 648 will shorten the process of purchasing port-related specialized cranes and replacement parts for those cranes. Ports will still have to submit proposals and Aucoin said ports will still take the most competitive bid, in most cases, but wouldn’t have to undergo a lengthy bid process, anymore.

Louisiana House Bill 665 allows negotiations between port officials and a development prospect to remain confidential for a period of 24 months.

And finally, Louisiana House Bill 804 would allow ports to extend 40-year primary term leases of property for an additional 99 years provided the lease contains a clause for readjustment of the rentals upon expiration of the initial term.

 “If you’re going to have someone come in and lease Port property and build a major facility that costs in the range of $300 or $400 million, they’re going to want it for more than 40 years,” Aucoin said. “To make an investment like that, it would be hard to get that investment back in 40 years. They want the opportunity to be here for the long-haul, and so do we.”