Ship channel key to our future

{{tncms-inline alignment="left" content="<p><strong>Jim Beam</strong>, the retired editor of the <em>American Press</em>, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-515-8871 or jbeam@americanpress.com.</p>" id="9bcbc167-1020-46e5-ad77-ee57a76a1474" style-type="fact" title="JIM BEAM" type="relcontent"}}

<p class="p1">BATON ROUGE — Southwest Louisiana wouldn’t be the economic development center of the country at the moment if it hadn’t been for the existence of the Calcasieu Ship Channel and the Lake Charles Port Board that is responsible for its maintenance.

<p class="p1">Area visionaries in the early part of the 20th Century saw the value of improved navigation. Now, it’s time for citizens in Calcasieu and Cameron parishes who have benefited from our forefathers’ vision to step up to the plate. Both the port and channel need our help. However, first a little history.

<p class="p1">The Calcasieu Parish Police Jury in 1922 called for a $2.75 million bond issue to deepen and widen the Calcasieu River from the Intracoastal Canal to Lake Charles. It provided a navigation route through the Intracoastal Canal to the Sabine River and to the Gulf of Mexico.

<p class="p1">Congressmen from Southwest Louisiana knew there had to be a better and shorter way to get to the Gulf and they got their colleagues in 1938 to appropriate $9.2 million to dredge the channel a distance of 34 miles from Lake Charles to the Gulf of Mexico to a depth of 33 feet and bottom width of 250 feet. A formal opening ceremony was held July 12, 1941.

<p class="p1">The channel was widened to 400 feet and deepened to 40 feet in the 1960s. The Industrial Canal was added in the 1970s. Both helped Lake Charles in 1992 become the 23rd largest tonnage port in the nation with 1,600 ship movements a year. It moved up to 11th place in 2014 with 2,500 ship movements annually and will be in 10th place in the near future.

<p class="p1">A legislative proposal to create a Calcasieu-Cameron Navigation District notes that, “On average, up to 46 cents out of every $1 in our pockets comes from the channel.”

<p class="p1">The economic impact is 36,000 direct and indirect local jobs and 49,000 direct and indirect state jobs. Other benefits include $118.8 million annually in local taxes, $155 million in state taxes and $6.7 billion in statewide economic activity. Investment growth in Southwest Louisiana totaled $117 billion in 2017.

<p class="p1">The channel is 68 miles long, 32 miles into the Gulf and 36 miles from the coast to the Interstate 10 bridge. Half the channel is dredged each year, but that work is subject to available federal funding. It’s a two-step process, removing material from the channel and placing it into spoil banks along the Calcasieu River.

<p class="p1">So what’s the problem?

<p class="p1">The port is responsible for 25 percent of the construction costs for rebuilding existing disposal sites and acquiring new ones. Those costs are expected to be $79 million over the next 20 years. Existing disposal sites that are full have to be rebuilt and new ones have to be found that cost money.

<p class="p1">The channel needs 21 Superdomes of disposal capacity and only 1 Superdome of capacity is available. The federal government needs to provide $30 million to $40 million for operations and maintenance and $236 million over 20 years to meet future channel needs.

<p class="p1">Locally, a reliable source of funds is needed to purchase real estate for new disposal sites and provide the local cost share to rebuild existing disposal sites that are rapidly deteriorating. The port has paid about $5.3 million to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the local cost-share of handling dredged material and will dedicate $3 million annually for five years.

<p class="p1">Unfortunately, that isn’t enough and the state doesn’t have the millions needed to help with future local costs. The best solution offered so far is creation of the Calcasieu-Cameron Navigation District sponsored by Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, in Senate Bill 269. It passed the state Senate unanimously.

<p class="p1">Morrish said the proposed district is patterned after the successful Sabine-Neches Navigation District in Texas. The five-member board of commissioners would have two main goals. 

<p class="p1">First, would be to work with all existing and future stakeholders to inform the public of the importance of the Calcasieu Ship Channel, and second, to establish a tax millage to begin building funding to finance the purchase of additional disposal areas and to rebuild existing disposal areas.

<p class="p1">A proposed 5-mill property tax would have to be approved by voters in Calcasieu and Cameron parishes. It would have to pass in each parish. The tax would cost the owner of a $150,000 home $37.50 annually. The median home price in Calcasieu Parish is $109,000. Failure of the tax would kill the proposed district. 

<p class="p1">Larger ships are going to be using the Calcasieu Ship Channel because of the proliferation of LNG facilities on the river. Even the 400-foot width and 40-foot depth is going to be a challenge, but both are a must if the current economic development boom is going to continue in both parishes.

<p class="p1">Our forefathers did their part. Now, it’s our turn to ensure our children and grandchildren will enjoy the same prosperous economic growth we have seen in our lifetimes.

<strong>Jim Beam</strong>, the retired editor of the <em>American Press</em>, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-515-8871 or jbeam@americanpress.com.

      578ed44e-214b-11e8-b799-1321ad980d3f2018-03-06T14:33:00Z#statecrimenews/crime,newsTeen accused of attacking 51-year-old, stealing phoneAssociatedPresshttps://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/847f947e4dcdd64d23ee1a5459357331?s=100&d=mm&r=gNEW ORLEANS — Police in New Orleans have accused a 15-year-old boy of attacking a 51-year-old man and stealing his cellphone.

      NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reports the Jan. 26 attack was a group effort with at least six minors believed to be involved. The outlet cites a police department release that says the bicycling teens surrounded the victim and hit him in the back of the head.

      The victim reportedly fell to the floor where the boys kicked and punched him before stealing his phone and fleeing.

      The release says the teen was arrested Monday and charged with second-degree robbery. It’s unclear if he has a lawyer.

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