Saturday, September 22, 2018

No word if project goes forward; Port downplays DOTD letter

No word if project goes forward; Port downplays DOTD letter
Posted: Jul 12, 2018
Categories: Front Page, Headlines
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Developers of a mixed use project proposed for Port Manchac did not indicate Wednesday if they will move forward following Tuesday’s vote of the Port authority who denied the developers’ request for an MOU between the two entities.

On Wednesday, developer Terry Jones did not address either how or if his team would move forward with their Village at Port Manchac proposal following Tuesday’s vote in which Port commissioners unanimously refused the developers’ request for a Memorandum of Understanding, or “MOU,” to enter into an 18-month period of due diligence on site at the port property. Contrary to the Port Commission’s vote to seek an Attorney General’s opinion prior to taking any formal action on the proposal, Jones told the Rotary that there are several common sense readings of the law that would have granted the Port authority to explore the development.

Jones told the Hammond Rotary on Wednesday that a letter from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development that was emailed to the Port on Tuesday offered perhaps the most “pertinent” information, but that letter was neither read into the record nor introduced publicly during Tuesday’s meeting.

Tuesday’s letter was emailed to Port Director Pat Dufresne prior to the start of the Tuesday meeting. The letter from Thomas M. Clark, commissioner of the Office of Multimodal Commerce, reads as follows:

“The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) and Port Manchac have maintained a long history of working together for the best interest of our citizens. Since 1989, the DOTD, through the Port Priority Program, has contributed approximately $8.6 million towards the infrastructure at the Port with the intent of improving the regional economy a the request of the port authority.

“DOTD is an advocate, first and foremost, for all 39 state port authorities, as they collectively contribute to the state’s strengths in attracting economic development. Secondly, we encourage the commission, developers, and all Tangipahoa Parish stakeholders, to collectively collaborate and exhaust all efforts that achieve a win-win scenario for the benefit of the port, parish, and state, including, but no limited to, finding the best use of the port’s assets in today’s economy.

"As the future of the Port is deliberated, as it exists today, it may be beneficial to understand that should the Commission decide to sell or dispose of any port owned property which has been improved in part with DOTD Port Priority Program Funds, Article 13 of the Intergovernmental Agreements between DOTD and the South Tangipahoa Parish Port Commission, provides that the Port Authority is required to reimburse DOTD for a percentage fo project life remaining at the time of sale. At this time, approximately $2,861,826.00 has the potential for reimbursement. However, if the assets of the Port or leased or utilized under some other agreement whereby the Port maintains ownership, the reimbursement clause would be inapplicable. We are aware of other ports that have realized revenue potential through diversification of port-owned properties for non-traditional purposes, i.e., Port of New Orleans and Port of Lake Charles. DOTD encourages the Port to look towards these non-traditional uses as guidance as it seeks to distinguish itself in the port community.

“Furthermore, DOTD Legal has reviewed the regulations and laws that govern the Port Commission and has advised that nothing reviewed thus far raises any concerns regarding the Port Commission’s authority to vote on the project. Louisiana Revised Statute 34:1953 grants the Port Commission board authority to own, construct, operate, and maintain recreational facilities and all other property necessary or useful for port recreational and business purposes. Again, to reiterate, DOTD is an advocate for all our port authorities, and we encourage a collaborative outcome that achieves a win-win scenario for the Port, Parish, and State.”

“I wish it would have been introduced,” Jones said, indicating that the project his group proposes is not breaking new ground. “This is something that’s been done before,” he told the packed house at the Hammond Rotary Club.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Dufresne discounted the DOTD letter, saying that his office found inconsistencies in it.

“The draft of the DOTD letter that the port received right before meeting had some conflicting info, and as a result, the port’s consultant is in the process of clarifying those issues with the Department ASAP,” Dufresne said. The director said his commissioners did not have access to the DOTD letter “because it was only a draft sent right before the meeting that needed further clarification.”

On Tuesday, port consultant Gary P. LaGrange referenced the DOTD letter during the port meeting but did not read it into the record, as Port Commissioner Ernie Drake III did in presenting the report from the Canadian National Railroad. In that letter, CN expressed concern that any plan to displace the existing industrial park would hinder the railroad’s ability to use that site as a staging location in emergency conditions or in future construction projects, such as the the new timber bridge planned over the Bonne Carre Spillway in St. Charles Parish.

“Staging of material will be required on both sides of the bridge. CN had planned on using the Port to stage some material for the north end of the bridge. If the Port property becomes unavailable, we will need to find another location, which will probably be downtown Hammond. This will not only increase our costs because of the extra distance, but may inconvenience the residents of Hammond and Ponchatoula with additional slow movements of this material through their downtowns,” writes James S. Binder, CN’s manager of business development and real estate.

PHOTO: Village at Port Manchac developer Terry Jones poses with Hammond Rotary President Brandon Recotta following Wednesday's presentation on the proposed multi-use project. Jones did not tell the club how or if the project will move forward following Tuesday's denial of an MOU agreement with the South Tangipahoa Parish Port Commission.