Port should be braced for 2010 storm season

Russell Bruce
September 22, 2009
Zenobia Barrow
September 24, 2009
Russell Bruce
September 22, 2009
Zenobia Barrow
September 24, 2009

It’s been over a year since hurricanes Gustav and Ike ripped at Port Fourchon’s front line of defense.

The manmade jetties and beach that protect the oil hub remain in disarray, leaving the nation’s oil supply center exposed to future storms.

According to Port Director Ted Falgout, help is on the way.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the port are closer to negotiating a price to – at least temporarily – repair the jetties near Caminada Headland Island, a miles-long sand bank that fronts Port Fourchon and helps prevent beach erosion.

Falgout said FEMA hired Healtheon Inc. of New Orleans to repair the jetties. The company bid $2.9 million to perform the work – well below the government’s $4.8 million estimate of the actual cost.

“They gave a very low bid, which cause us some concern initially that they might not be able to perform the work,” he said.

A preconstruction meeting is scheduled to be held this week, and work on the jetties could begin within 60 days.

“Hopefully, they’ll mobilize and everybody will be really happy,” Falgout said. “We’d love to see that they really are good and will bid our job with equally low prices.”

The port’s project – reinforcing the second line of defense – requires rebuilding rock waterbreaks that have endured damage from several storms.

Falgout said dating back as far as 2002, when Hurricane Lili and Tropical Storm Isidore pounded Lafourche Parish’s coast, the waterbreak has endured nature’s wrath.

Negotiating a price to repair the rock breakwaters has been a logistical nightmare, especially given that the damage links back to multiple storms.

“All of these storms – Lili/Isidore, Katrina/Rita and Gustav/Ike – have inflicted some damages that were not yet repaired when the next group of storms hit,” Falgout explained. “That alone is a management nightmare for FEMA.”

The damage caused most recently by the Gustav/Ike tandem stripped Port Fourchon of much of its sand and underlying structures, leaving pipes that service the offshore oil-and-gas production in the Gulf of Mexico exposed.

Falgout said the port initially requested $8 to $10 million to restore the beach. However, FEMA is offering the port closer to $2.8 million.

Port officials are considering alternative fixes until a more permanent – and likely more costly – measure can be secured.

“We might have to make do with a different design,” Falgout said. “Something less permanent – along the lines of the geotubes being used in Grand Isle. We are considering a similar design.”

Geotubes would offer a temporary fix that could be fortified with the arrival of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Caminada Headlands Project.

The $243 million shoreline restoration project is slated to begin in 2011.

Falgout said the corps intends to pump millions of cubic sand onto the beach. “If we’ve got geotubes in place, that will afford us to use this interim protection until then,” he explained.

Although not a permanent fix, Falgout said the geotubes could be in place before the start of the 2010 hurricane season.

Fortifying Port Fourchon’s coast is essential, given the economic impact it bears on the nation. Approximately 16 to 18 percent of the country’s domestic oil supply is routed through Port Fourchon.

According to Energy API, more than 11.7 million barrels of U.S. petroleum imports (crude and products) pass through the port daily.

And while many are fretting proposed legislation to tax the oil and gas industry, Falgout said Port Fourchon continues to plan for the future.

“Luckily for us, our niche is the deepwater of the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “Historically, those projects are five- to seven-year horizon projects. When companies make the commitment to pursue those projects, they don’t usually change their minds in mid-stream.

“Because of that, we’ve been somewhat insulated from what the rest of the country has seen,” he added.

The port continues to upgrade its infrastructure, add new facilities and ink deals with new tenants, the director said.

“The level of activity has remained remarkably high for this region,” Falgout said.

“Unfortunately, there are people in the energy industry who are losing their jobs. But oil is still in a range where it is fairly profitable,” he added. “If it is still at these prices in a recession, you’ve got to believe the prices will only get better.”

Falgout credits the port’s continued success, to some extent, with luck. “It’s all about being in the right place at the right time and making the right decisions,” he said. “We’re going to keep building and, when there is a turn around, we’ll be ready.”