By Cyndi Sellers
U. S. Coast Guard Commander Darwin Jensen reported to the Cameron Parish Port Board last week on the effects of Hurricanes Laura and Delta. He said the Calcasieu Ship Channel has remained functional even through a Category 4 and a Category 2 storm. A drilling rig broke loose, and some rock barges sank in the approaches to the Ship Channel and had to be salvaged, but of the 140 barges docked in Lake Charles not one was lost.
Smaller vessels did receive damage. Fifty vessels were salvaged, though most did not obstruct the waterway. Only a couple of sunken boats are left under Coast Guard authority. Six commercial fishing vessels which sought safe harbor at the City Dock were lost. Historically, City Dock has been a good place, Jensen said, but Laura was different. There were no Cameron Parish boats at City Dock during Delta. The boats went to Lake Arthur and as far away as Galveston.
The Coast Guard is looking into ways to prevent the sinking of vessels in the lower ship channel, including a Regulated Marine Area, which would exclude vessels from Cameron during storms. They are looking into the impact it would cause to the area and seeking feedback.
The Coast Guard identified 80-100 oil spills after Laura and Delta, mostly from damaged boats, but no sheen is visible now. Aids to Navigation should be back in service quickly.
The Cameron ferry, which had just been shut down for inspection the previous week, was discussed. Jensen said ferries must have an annual safety inspection, but the recent inspection of the ferry Acadia was to address deficiencies from the first inspection in May. The Acadia has recently been sent to dry dock for eight weeks to repair its propulsion system. All ferries must go into dry dock every five years or so for extensive inspection and maintenance. Fresh water ferries can go longer, but saltwater ferries have a shorter time frame. The Cameron II ferry is in dry dock now.
Port Commissioner Jimmy Brown asked what the Coast Guard could do about the high speed of large boats and ships which affect bank erosion and the safety of recreational boats and commercial fishermen. Port Director Clair Marceaux said the Port Board has the authority to set no-wake zones, but there is no way to enforce them without a port police force, although perhaps the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries agents could help. The Coast Guard can do nothing without an ordinance to enforce, unless there is damage to property or a safety issue. It was suggested that video of ships creating large wakes be sent to the Lake Charles Pilots Association.
It was reported by commissioners that the US Army Corps of Engineers, without notifying vessel owners, had begun removing vessels from the water and from land and placing them on barges.
Marceaux reported on complaints about the operation of the Cameron fisheries facility by Tommy’s Seafood since the hurricanes. Individuals had reported at the last Police Jury meeting that the operator was not buying shrimp or providing ice to shrimpers. Marceaux reported that the operator’s contract has a “force majeure” clause, which applies in disasters like the two or three storms that hit Cameron this year.
She said equipment was damaged and insurance is the only avenue to replace it. The facility was still on generator power, and some days had no water, said manager Kay Picou. “We have done as much as we could to help,” she said. “We bought some shrimp last week.”
“We will make sure, with the District Attorney’s office, that the operator does what he is contracted to do,” Marceaux said. “The Police Jury holds the insurance on the building, and Tommy’s also had insurance on file.”
The Port Board adopted its annual budget for 2021. Marceaux reported that shipping fees at Sabine Pass LNG “took a hit” from COVID. Marine traffic was down considerably, from 30 vessels a month to only 8 in the spring. COVID-19 shutdowns have resulted in less usage of LNG worldwide. Vessel traffic had picked up to 28 last month, as demand increased globally.
The Cameron Parish Port is supported by shipping fees. It has been autonomous since 2016 and is the only Louisiana port operating entirely on pri- vate revenue rather than a tax structure. The Cameron Parish Police Jury provides an office and bookkeeping support.
Consideration of a lease agreement with Venture Global LNG of Cameron Parish Port property was tabled pending adoption of an agreement addendum with Venture Global. The deadline was extended 120 days due to the hurricanes.
Port Commissioners agreed to seek a consulting firm to implement a port redevelopment plan and assist in the grant application process. The Request for Proposals would specify that the firm would be paid out of revenue from grants obtained. Marceaux said that after natural disasters there is an abundance of funding for all agencies, and the Port can be a sub-grantee of the Police Jury. She said it has been seven or eight years since the last port development plan, and things have changed. She expects the firm to meet with businesses, residents, students, and others regarding the needs the Port should focus on.