Storage site riles many in Quarter

May 7 2009 | Latest News

I attended the VCC meeting yesterday to gather information for you. The below article by Bruce Eggler is an accurate account of the meeting. For more information, the power point presentation given by the Port of New Orleans at the meeting may be accessed at
Mavis Early

Storage site riles many in Quarter
Residents blast plan for nearby wharves
Thursday, May 07, 2009
By Bruce Eggler, Times Picayune
Staff writer

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny residents applauded loudly Wednesday each time a speaker criticized the Port of New Orleans' plan to build a $40 million cold-storage warehouse and transfer facility on two Mississippi River wharves alongside the French Market.

Speakers warned that vibrations from 18-wheelers carrying produce to the site would damage buildings in the city's most historic neighborhoods, that a leak of the thousands of pounds of anhydrous ammonia to be used as a refrigerant could threaten lives and the city's entire tourist industry, and that the site -- the Gov. Nicholls Street and Esplanade Avenue wharves -- is highly susceptible to crashes by runaway ships.

However, even though one speaker called the proposal "one of the dumbest ideas I've ever heard," port officials rejected the objections and said they consider the project vital to the economies of the city and state, with thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in taxes at stake.

They hope to start construction this fall and open the facility in 2011.

New Orleans Cold Storage, which ships frozen poultry and other products from New Orleans, now operates on Jourdan Road, but the closing of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet has sharply limited water access to that site. The need to unload cargoes miles away is costing the company $45,000 a month, said Deborah Keller, the port's development director.

Determined to keep the business in New Orleans, the port looked at six possible sites and decided only the Gov. Nicholls and Esplanade wharves met all its criteria, such as deepwater access and direct access to a dedicated truck route, Keller said. She said other sites would take as much as two years and $80 million more to get ready.

The Vieux Carre Commission called Wednesday's meeting to let residents ask questions about the Cold Storage project, but the commission took no action after the meeting. There apparently is little it can do.

Although the site is mostly in the French Quarter, Keller said the maritime servitude the port holds on the site means it is not subject to normal city zoning or permitting regulations.

In addition, she said, the project does not need an Army Corps of Engineers or Coast Guard permit for building in a navigable waterway because it will not affect the footprint of the wharves. The port will need to get permission from the corps and the state to drive additional piles at the wharves, she said.

Critics such as Walter Gallas of the National Trust for Historic Preservation hope federal officials will decide the project requires review under the National Historic Preservation Act, which says no federal money or federal permits may be issued for a project that would harm a historic site until federal and state officials have reviewed ways to "avoid, minimize or mitigate" the damage.

Keller said the port is still "in the early stages" of working with federal and state preservation and other officials.

The meeting was held at the Old U.S. Mint, an 1830s landmark that is only yards from the route that trucks would travel to the Cold Storage site. They would exit Interstate 10 or I-610 onto Elysian Fields Avenue and proceed to a floodwall opening at the foot of Elysian Fields and Esplanade Avenue.

The facility would operate weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and would be visited by 30 to 60 18-wheelers most days and as many as 100 on the busiest days, with the heaviest traffic each day before 8 a.m.

Denis Finigan, president of Urban Systems, which did a traffic study for the project, said the trucks would travel only on Elysian Fields, a designated truck route, and would have no reason to venture into surrounding neighborhoods.

Some nearby residents and business owners warned, however, that the section of Elysian Fields nearest the river already is congested and might not be able to support hundreds of additional heavy trucks a week. Finigan said he did not investigate the street's load-bearing capacity or the effect of truck vibrations on nearby buildings.

Keller and others said New Orleans Cold Storage has been operating safely for 122 years and that the new facility would be governed by strict federal and state regulations.

Keller emphasized that food or other products would not be "processed" at the site, only stored and loaded onto ships.

Architect Ray Manning said the new building, although more than 800 feet long, would be no taller than existing buildings on the wharves and would not "overwhelm or dominate" the landscape.

Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration backs the project.