First phase of new deepwater port off Louisiana coast under development

A state agency that for seven years has been trying to develop a deepwater port off the coast of Plaquemines Parish announced today the first phase of the project is finally moving forward.

The Louisiana International Deepwater Gulf Transfer Terminal Authority, or LIGTT, held a news conference today in New Orleans to announce that a management team known as LIGTT Midstream Holdings will develop a dry bulk terminal three miles off the coast of Plaquemines Parish and 20 miles south of Venice.

The terminal will serve as a drop-off point, where an emerging generation of mega-cargo ships can transfer bulk cargo like grains, beans and fertilizer to smaller ships and barges that will carry them upriver and to other ports.

“This day is the end of a long journey and the beginning of a dream,” says state Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Pearl River, who was a driving force behind the creation of LIGTT in 2008 and represents the Plaquemines Parish district where the project is being developed.

The first phase of the project is expected to cost $25 million in privately raised capital and is a fraction of what was initially envisioned for the deepwater port, which has a total price tag of $10 billion. Phase one was originally supposed to be a 55-acre platform that would serve as a transfer point for huge container ships that carry upward of 18,000 containers—more twice as many as existing vessels carry.

A LIGTT spokesman says it makes more sense to develop a smaller, less costly phase of the project first, one that can start generating revenue so that banks will be more willing to finance the more costly phases of the project later.

Subsequent phases envisioned for the project include facilities to serve liquid bulk, hydrocarbons, the LNG industries and containers. The first phase will be financed with a combination of traditional financing and investment capital from a joint venture, the participants of which were not identified today.

LIGTT Midstream Holdings is led by attorney Tom Thornhill and developer Jim Woodworth. Among the companies providing engineering, design and permitting services to the project are Bechtel Corp., Evans Graves Engineers, and Waldemar Nelson.

Developers are planning to file for permits with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard in the coming days. They estimate that permitting will be complete within a year and that the facility could be operational as early as late 2016.

The ambitious project has been questioned by skeptics over the years and opposed by existing ports along the Mississippi River. Today’s announcement did little to suggest any of the naysayers have come around.

Neither officials from Louisiana Economic Development nor Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office were part of the announcement. Officials from the Port of Greater Baton Rouge and the Port of New Orleans did not show up either, but the Port of New Orleans says in a statement that they “don’t see the feasibility in duplicating what is already in existence with plans to expand.”

“We wish LIGTT luck in this first phase of development of a dry bulk transfer terminal,” Gary LaGrange, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans, says in the statement. “However, there are aspects to the overall scope of LIGTT’s development that could represent duplicity in the state.”

Officials from the Port of Greater Baton Rouge did not return calls seeking comment on the project as of this afternoon’s deadline.

Still, Crowe is optimistic about the future of his long-held dream.

“This happened because we live in a country where capitalism and ideas are powerful tools to success,” he says. “It happened because we never gave credence to naysayers.”

Stephanie Riegel

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