Parish council updated on potential deepwater port

Dredge material from the perpetual maintenance required of a proposed deepwater port off the shores of St. Mary Parish would provide an opportunity for perpetual restoration of Louisiana’s coastline.

That’s just one of the many benefits being touted by local representatives on the proposed project being considered by public and private Chinese investors.

Lucian Cutrera of T. Baker Smith LLC gave the St. Mary Parish Council an overview of the presentation made recently during the second of two trips to China by parish President Paul Naquin and Economic Development Director Frank Fink. T. Baker Smith has been hired by the parish to conduct preliminary studies of the proposal. The council heard Cutrera during its regular meeting Wednesday.

Cutrera cautioned that the project is a concept only but added, “It’s an Atchafalaya concept that’s gained a lot of momentum.”

The idea is to go from deepwater draft vessels to shallow water draft, Cutrera said. The deepwater draft Panamax and post Panamax vessels would be offloaded at the port onto shallow draft vessels that would travel up the Atchafalaya channel to access the Mississippi River as well as interstate highways and rail lines.

“It’s the Panama Canal enlargement that’s predicating a lot of interest in additional container traffic in the U.S. and the Gulf Coast,” he said. “The point of interest to the Chinese is the Mississippi River and we can get to the Mississippi twice,” from the Atchafalaya River and the Intracoastal Waterway.

The St. Mary site also offers access to highway and uncongested rail, he added.

China Ocean Shipping Co. that ships millions of containers to the U.S. every year are the investors interested in the Mississippi River valley, he said.

“They came to us, we didn’t come to them,” he said. “The client generates the demand. This is fundamentally different.”

He noted that the Chinese have built a similar port near Shanghai at Yangshan, a river basin that is geologically similar to the Atchafalaya.

The Chinese will be doing an engineering, economic and environmental feasibility study, he said.

“We know we can build in 20 feet of water,” Cutrera said, “but whether we can dredge and maintain a channel at a cost that’s equal to the benefits is the Achilles heel.”

Naquin said the parish is anticipating a visit by the China delegation in January.

In earlier reports it was noted that the study would take about a year to complete.

In other business Wednesday the council:

—Introduced ordinances on zoning map and 2012 budget amendments.

—Approved memorandums of understanding with the Town of Berwick and Gravity Drainage Districts 2 and 6 on financial responsibilities for drainage improvements funded by the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

—Passed resolutions on a cooperative agreement on infrastructure improvements at the Charenton Canal Industrial Park, and a service agreement with Cannon Cochran Management Services Inc.

—Appointed present members Chrissy C. Bowman and Claude R. Roberts Sr. to Fire Protection District 7 and appointed Herman Hartman to the St. Mary Parish Tourist Commission.

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