La. Highway 1 and its connection to activities in Port Fourchon have a daily impact of $46 million to the oil and gas industry and $500 million to the National GDP. Factoring in the 12 times the port had to be shut down for the 2020 Hurricane Season, those estimated negative totals for this year are $552 million and $6 billion, respectively.
Of all the storms the Gulf storms Louisiana has seen in 2020, Hurricane Zeta was certainly the one that affected Port Fourchon the most, forcing the part to go through each of its storm phases, damaging structures and vessels and knocking down utility poles.
“We had some pretty heavy winds. We had some sustained winds, from what we can tell, about 112 to 115 mph and gusts upwards of 140 mph,” said Chett Chiasson, Executive Director of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission (GLPC). “We had a storm surge but fortunately, not the most devastating storm surge.”
A few dock facilities in the older area of the port took on 3 to 4-feet of water during Zeta, he went on the say. “As we’ve grown over the years, we’ve built the land higher and higher, so we’re able to expand and be more resilient that way,” Chiasson noted.
Being that it is a safe harbor, Port Fourchon had around 180 offshore supply vessels and 25 fishing vessels at the port to wait out the storm. The vessels remained docked, for the most part, Chiasson said, except for a derrick barge that broke loose and caused some damage to other ships.
In addition to the damages caused by the high winds of Zeta, electricity is still another major factor for the Port at press time around early November, as many electric utility crews could be seen working along La. Highway 1 and other areas of South Lafourche to restore 100 percent of the power in Fourchon.
“I know that power restoration has happened across the state and they’re well above 90 percent in the overall restoration,” said Governor John Bel Edwards Edwards during a press conference at the port on Nov. 6. “There are certain pockets that are more difficult than others because of the severity of the damage to the infrastructure. Port Fourchon happens to be one of those areas.”
Through with the use of backup generators, Chiasson noted, the port was fully operational by the Saturday following the storm.
Though, Zeta put Fourchon through its worse compared to other hurricanes this season that left little concerns in their wake, several of the Gulf storms caused production in the port to be halted, with water rising over La. 1 being a contributing factor to that.
However, a promising $135 million La. 1 elevation project looks to combat that. With the federal funds already secured, construction is set to begin for the vital project in late 2021 and take about six years to complete.
“So we have six more hurricane seasons to go through before we have an elevated highway to utilize,” Chiasson said. “That’ll really change the way we do storm prep and storm recovery, as well as storm reaction.”
Chiasson went on to note that the port would still have to be evacuated for hurricanes, but the timing for the phases would change.
Port officials are also hopeful of the passage of the 2020 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to up production. The bill, which was passed in the U.S. House earlier this year, awaits approval from the U.S. Senate. If it passes, GLPC will be authorized to deepen Bayou Lafourche and Belle Pass in the port from 24 feet to 30 feet, allowing for larger vessels to navigate the waters.
“A good thing about that is one, we can have more benefit for our current business in the port by having deeper drafts. And two, the material that is going to be dredged will be used beneficially to renourish and rebuild marsh in our area,” Chiasson said. “So that is some really good work that we’re excited about so we can do some better things for our customers and at the same time, protecting ourselves with that material that we’re going to dredge.”
He also touched on the work being done for the coastal wetlands park, which Chiasson said will be interactive, have the ability to attract tourism and “really highlight how the environment and industry work very closely together and can flourish together in the same location – at Port Fourchon.”
With other projects on the books, such as the airport corridor expansion – which will make travel easier and safer to and from the area – it’s a bright future for Port Fourchon, despite the many challenges 2020 has thrown its way.
“We’re excited about the future. I know we’ve been in a depressed economy, a depressed oil and gas market,” Chiasson added. “But, we’re going to continue to press forward and work with our customers as best we can and be ready for the future.” •