Port seeks construction money

Faced with growing shipping demands, commissioners of the Port of Greater Baton Rouge are asking the Governor’s Office to make $2.2 million in port-improvement matching money available for use this year.

The move would require the administration to reclassify the construction budget item, also known as capital outlay, to Priority 1 from Priority 5.

That would also allow the work to begin this year, Jay Hardman, the port’s executive director, said Thursday night.

Earlier this year, new port tenant Genesis Energy L.P. began engineering and other work on its planned $150 million oil storage and import/export terminal near the docks in Port Allen.

By the summer of 2015, Genesis plans to begin exporting as many as 33 million barrels of oil or other bulk petroleum products from the port annually.

Earlier this month, non tenant customer Ralph Stewart Logging LLC loaded 48,055 metric tons of pine logs into a 623-foot vessel headed for customers in China. Logging company owners hope to repeat that process on a regular basis.

But Hardman and other port officials estimate the docks and related infrastructure are in need of $12.6 million in capital improvements. So, port commissioners voted Thursday night to ask Gov. Bobby Jindal to approve use of $2.2 million in state funds this year toward construction of a $12.6 million railroad chambering yard.

The chambering yard, Hardman explained, would enable port tenants to accept rail shipments and have them backed up on port property during lengthy import or export operations that otherwise could slow down area traffic.

In an unrelated rail project, the port already is spending $5.6 million to replace light rail with heavier-gauge rail needed to adequately serve tenants importing or exporting materials in increasingly heavy rail cars.

In their request to the Governor’s Office, port commissioners noted that Union Pacific Railroad has offered to provide as much as $1 million for the chambering yard.

The commissioners told the Governor’s Office they would be willing to transfer $4 million from another rail project to help complete the chambering yard.

Port officials hope to coax $1 million from money earmarked for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

Hardman said tenant Louis Dreyfus Commodities LLC is considering making $4.4 million in advance rent payments to complete the chambering yard.

In other matters Thursday, commissioners approved payment of $37,044 to the Baton Rouge office of Stantec Consulting Services Inc. for a traffic impact study.

Commissioners expressed interest in ensuring burgeoning business at the port will not worsen congestion on roads near the facility.

Stantec is a global engineering and architectural company in Edmonton, Canada.