This file photo shows an aerial view of the Port of Morgan City.
A national study released this week found that coastal ports are
having an increasing economic impact on their communities.

Legislators push to get money for maintenance

A nationwide study of ports released Tuesday shows a big increase in the impact of coastal ports to the U.S. economy. Legislators are trying to make sure those ports get the maintenance funds they need to function at their full potential. Since the last American Association of Port Authorities economic impact study in 2007, the contributions of U.S. seaports to the nation’s economy have risen dramatically, according to a news release. From 2007 to 2014, the total economic value U.S. coastal ports provide in the form of revenue to businesses, personal income and economic output by exporters and importers rose 43 percent to $4.6 trillion in 2014, the study, performed by Pennsylvania-based company Martin Associates, reported. Federal, state and local tax revenues generated by portsector and importer-exporter revenues rose 51 percent to $321.1 billion, according to the report. Port-related activity jobs increased by 74 percent to 23.1 million; and personal wages and local consumption related to the port-sector doubled to $1.5 billion, with the average annual salary of those directly employed by port-related businesses equating to $53,723, the report stated. Robust growth in the economic impact value from U.S. ports occurred despite the economic recession that severely hampered marine cargo activity between 2008 and 2012, Martin Associates President John Martin said in the release. The value of international cargo handled at these ports increased by $400 billion since 2007, reaching about $1.8 trillion in 2014, Martin said. As of August 2014, the Port of Morgan City started receiving import-export business for the first time. At that time, ships began importing sea salt and exporting grains from the port. According to a recently released Port of Morgan City study, every time a ship comes in to the port, the community receives an economic impact of about $300,000, Port of Morgan City Executive Raymond “Mac” Wade said. “We are full-speed ahead to try to develop the import-export business as a shallow-medium size port,” Wade said. “We think there’s a niche market for (3,000) to 6,000-ton shipments.” According to the American Association of Port Authorities study, key growth in international trade came from U.S. exports, which saw a 60 percent increase in value since 2007, Martin said. Port of Morgan City Economic Development Manager Cindy Cutrera said, “With that increase, I think that there is a huge potential for us in the area of exports coming through here.” Port of Morgan City officials are pushing to get more import-export business, to show government officials that the port is deserving of more funds for dredging, Wade said. Port officials have been trying to get the funding necessary to dredge the Atchafalaya River Bar Channel to its congressional mandated 20-foot depth. On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, led 18 senators in a bipartisan letter urging the Senate Appropriations Committee leadership to set the funding levels for harbor maintenance at the levels authorized in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, according to a Vitter news release. “Keeping our ports and waterways dredged and maintained creates good paying middle class jobs, increases trade, and adds more than $200 billion annually in federal, state and local tax revenues,” Vitter said. In the letter, the senators wrote that the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is collecting more than $1.8 billion in annual revenue specifically to address maintenance needs for harbors and ports across the country. “Unfortunately, annual appropriations have been significantly less than annual collections, resulting in harbors and navigation channels getting narrower and shallower due to accumulating sediment, declining dredged material disposal area capacity and deteriorating harbor structures such as breakwaters and jetties due to inadequate funding,” the letter stated. Cutrera said Vitter seems to be describing exactly the Port of Morgan City’s situation when he reports that the Corps of Engineers isn’t able to dredge to the full-depth or width of waterways and is only dredge about half the time that dredging is needed. U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, was among the senators who signed the letter. U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, has also pushed for legislation to help ports. In January, Boustany worked to draft four letters to the Corps of Engineers prioritizing the state’s dredging and harbor maintenance projects. Included in those projects is dredging of the Atchafalaya River Bar Channel. In 2011, Boustany introduced the Realize America’s Maritime Promise, or RAMP Act. The bill intends to ensure that Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund money designated for dredging projects in ports and harbors is used solely for that purpose, according to a Boustany news release. Also in 2011 Boustany said, “For too long, Congress used the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to disguise the federal deficit, limiting the fund’s ability to address real problems along many of the waterways important to trade, commerce and jobs.”

Published by Daily Review 04/22/15