Expanded Panama Canal a plus for the Port of New Orleans
Don Ames Reporting
A report to Congress earlier this year said U.S. seaports in the Southeast would likely need up to $5 billion to deepen their shipping channels so they can trade with supersized cargo ships expected to arrive soon through an expanded Panama Canal.
That's because no shipping channels are at least 50 feet deep, which will be required for the ships, many from China and other Asian countries, that will begin using the Panama Canal after a major expansion is completed by the end of 2014.
According to that report, the Southeast remains too shallow from Virginia to south Florida and across the Gulf to Texas, and that the need for expanding port capacity "is likely to be most critical along the U.S. Southeast and Gulf coasts."
Officials at the Port of New Orleans are downplaying the report that it won't be able to handle the huge ships.
"The cargo, when it goes through the Panama Canal on these 12- and 13-thousand container ships, they are trans-shipped at some port...either in the Caribbean or in Panama," says Port of New Orleans Executive Director Gary LaGrange.
He says the bigger ships off-load into feeder ships. And those smaller ships will then bring the cargo to the Gulf, up the Mississippi to New Orleans.
"We can handle up to a 9-thousand container vessel," says LaGrang. "Anything larger than that has difficulty getting under the Crescent City Connection."
Cedrick Richmond has submitted legislation, the Dredge Act of 2012, which would allow for the appropriation of funds through the Corps Of Engineers to dredge southeastern ports, including the Port Of New Orleans, to 50 feet."
"Fifty feet would be nice," LaGrange says. "But, on the other hand, do we live without 50 feet? Can we live without 50 feet? Will we still benefit from the expansion of the Panama Canal without 50 feet? Absolutely, yes!"
And, he says the benefits will be substantial, although three-fourths of the new cargo coming through the Canal is expected to go to the east coast.
"If the Gulf Coast gets its fair share, that's a lot of containers. And, remember, the Gulf Coast only has four competing ports...New Orleans, Houston, Mobile and Tampa...that can handle containerized cargo."
"The 20 to 25 percent that comes to the Gulf Coast is nothing to laugh at. That's a sizable amount of cargo."
He says it means about 25 thousand new containers coming to New Orleans yearly.
"Last year, we had a record year of containers at the port here in New Orleans...500,000."
"A thousand containers equates to one, full-time maritime job," says LaGrange. "A job that pays 60- to 80-thousand a year."