Update: New Orleans Cold Storage Esplanade Ave. Wharf

July 29 2009 | Latest News
Port weighs options amid fierce criticism

Friday, July 24, 2009

By Jen DeGregorio, Times Picayune

Business writer

Facing mounting opposition to the construction of a poultry exporting operation at the foot of the French Market, the Port of New Orleans is looking for a new home for New Orleans Cold Storage.

Port administrators are asking tenants along the Mississippi River whether they could make room on their property for the company, which the port fears will leave New Orleans without a new headquarters. New Orleans Cold Storage is the port's second-largest customer.

"They've made it very clear that they're going to continue to oppose this, and we're going to see what the other alternatives are," port spokesman Chris Bonura said of residents in the French Quarter, Marigny and Bywater. Signs emblazoned with the message 'Poison Port' are posted throughout the neighborhoods.

State Rep. Juan LaFonta, D-New Orleans, expressed confidence that the wharves near the French Market have been taken off the table. He said he has been working behind the scenes to foster a compromise between the port and residents.

"I'm being assured that they're not going to locate it at Elysian Fields," LaFonta said, referring to the Gov. Nicholls Street and Esplanade Avenue wharves, which are near Elysian Fields Avenue in the Marigny. "It won't impact the French Quarter and historic area."

But there are no guarantees that the port will find another home for New Orleans Cold Storage, Bonura said, and the company very well might end up near the French Quarter as planned.

Still, the fact that the port is even considering a new home for the company represents an about-face for the agency, which just a few months ago said the wharves near the French Quarter were the only option for New Orleans Cold Storage.

Port officials had surveyed several vacant port properties and determined those sites would be too expensive to redevelop or were otherwise undesirable for the company's headquarters.

But with protest against the project growing louder -- mainly surrounding increased truck traffic and the use of ammonia in the facility -- the port agreed to consider other options.

"We're opening up our review of sites to look at sites that are currently leased," Bonura said. "We've talked to some terminal operators and said, 'Do you have some additional room that may be able to accommodate this?' "

Located along the Industrial Canal, New Orleans Cold Storage has had trouble moving its ships through the channel since Hurricane Katrina. The lock that connects the canal with the river is too small to fit many of the company's ships, and the only other entry to the canal, the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, has been closed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

In May, the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an agreement with the port to grant $23.5 million in hurricane recovery money to build the new headquarters, about half the cost of the project.

Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Recovery Authority, said in an e-mail that the money would not be disbursed until an environmental study of the project has been completed.