Most Southwest Louisiana residents drive past the industries that sustain them every day. They are a visible reminder that the area is thriving.
Less visible is the artery that supports those industries, the Calcasieu River Waterway. Maintenance on the 68-mile ship channel has always been crucial to its function as a navigation route through the Intracoastal Canal to the Sabine River and the Gulf of Mexico.
The Lake Charles Port sees an average of 2,500 vessels come in and out annually, making it the 11th largest tonnage port in the nation. The influx of LNG facilities along the river, will introduce more traffic and larger ships.
There are currently 47 companies in Calcasieu and Cameron parishes with $4.7 billion, or more, in annual sales that depend on the channel being navigable, according to the Louisiana Department of Economic Development.
This requires dredging material from the channel to maintain the necessary dimensions for navigation, as well as acquiring real estate and constructing disposal sites to contain the material.
Over the next 20 years it’s projected that channel dredging will require 97 million cubic yards (or more than 21 Superdomes worth) of disposal capacity at a cost of around $80 million. There are only about five million cubic yards available at present.
While most of the dredging in the channel is federally funded, federal law requires that the Lake Charles Harbor and Terminal District cover 25 percent of site construction and 100 percent of real estate costs.
The district serves, on behalf of the state, as the single entity overseeing all aspects of maintenance.
To address the need for funding Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, sponsored Bill 279, which passed in the last legislative session, creating the Calcasieu-Cameron Navigation District.
Morrish said the next step is to educate taxpayers in both parishes about the vital role maintaining the channel plays in the area’s economic health. Five mills would generate around $12 million annually, in today’s dollars. “What we need is probably a little bit more than that,” Morrish said.
According to a 2017 economic impact study commissioned by the Lake Charles Harbor and Terminal District, an average of 46-cents of each local dollar comes from activity associated with the Channel. The Channel generates 36,000 direct, indirect and induced local jobs, $5.7 billion in local economic activity, $118.8 million in local taxes and $155 million in state taxes.
Morrish said response to the proposed property tax from the users of the channel has been positive. He said a group of industrial representatives and other downstream users has formed to launch an educational campaign explaining why approving a millage would be in Calcasieu and Cameron voters’ best interest. Any proposal must be approved by a majority in both parishes.