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U.S. Gulf ports returning to normal

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) says that Gulf Coast ports that were affected by back-to-back hurricanes have returned their operations to or near what they were...

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) says that Gulf Coast ports that were affected by back-to-back hurricanes have returned their operations to or near what they were before the storms hit in August and September.

Even those with the most extensive damage are reporting significant progress toward accommodating the normal volumes of freight and passengers on which their communities and the nation depend, says the AAPA.

“I’m awed at the speed at which these hurricane-ravaged ports have worked to bring their operations back on line,” said Kurt Nagle, American Association of Port Authorities president and CEO.

Examples of ports with operations at or near pre-hurricane levels include the Texas port of Beaumont; the Louisiana ports of Lake Charles and Fourchon; and the Alabama State Port Authority at Mobile.

Port of Beaumont executive port director David “Chris” Fisher said his port is back to 100 per cent of operational capacity after being hard hit by Hurricane Rita, while Adam McBride, Port of Lake Charles’ port director, offered a similar report, noting that all road and rail connections are fully functional again, and the port’s workforce has returned to handle all cargoes.

At the southern tip of Louisiana, Greater Lafourche Port Commission executive director Ted Falgout reports the petroleum-handling facilities at Port Fourchon are about 90 per cent back to normal. Although not all storm damage has been repaired, Falgout said that all berths at his port are fully functional and extremely busy as a result of damage to the neighboring petroleum service bases of Venice and Cameron. He noted too that Port Fourchon has filed about $6 million in claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for repairs and clean up around the port.

Further east, Alabama State Port Authority director and CEO James Lyons said the Port of Mobile was open for business and handling vessels the Saturday following Hurricane Katrina. Most of the port’s damage was from the storm surge rather than the hurricane itself. “It took us nearly two weeks to clear mud and debris from our warehouses and to fully evaluate and start up equipment,” reflected Lyons. “We’re still calculating costs, but revised numbers show that our port sustained approximately $30 million in damage, and costs could climb further.” Lyons estimated the Port of Mobile is 95 per cent functional, with repairs completed in most areas and the balance to be finished by late spring or early summer.

Louisiana’s renowned Port of New Orleans and the two largest ports along the Mississippi Gulf Coast-Pascagoula and Gulfport-received the storms’ largest impacts. Even so, they’ve made significant progress to date.

Gary LaGrange, Port of New Orleans’ president and CEO, said his port has seen the return of about half of its normal ship call activity and about 60 per cent of its normal trucking activity, even though approximately one-third of the port’s infrastructure was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. “We were able to get about 70 per cent of the port’s infrastructure back up and running within a few weeks of the storm,” he explained. “The Port of New Orleans is on schedule to be at 70 to 80 per cent of pre-Katrina activity by March and about 85 per cent of those who work directly for the port have returned to work.”

LaGrange predicted the Port of New Orleans will get a big spurt in cargo in the first quarter of 2006, driven by increased steel imports and increased plywood imports.

Despite initial devastation at his port, Port of Pascagoula port director Mark McAndrews said the seaport’s public facilities will be operating at approximately 75 per cent of pre-Katrina levels by the end of December. Temporary repairs have been completed at all the port’s terminals, and all permanent repairs are underway, with targeted completion of March 2006. Rebuilding the freezer facilities, slated for completion in the first quarter of 2006, will return the port to 100 per cent operational capacity, he said.

“We haven’t had the difficulty obtaining labour that some ports have had, and all vessels are being worked as required,” said McAndrews.

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