Poised for Growth: West Cal Port Ready, Williang, Able for Expansion

In a recent interview with the Daily News, West Calcasieu Port Director Lynn Hohensee and Port Board President Dick Kennison talked about how the port is situated to handle the massive industrial expansion going on all around it and how it got there.

The West Calcasieu Port is a shallow-water port located west of the Ellender Bridge in Hackberry, along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, two miles west of the Calcasieu River Ship Channel. It was formed in the mid-1960s by state legislative action.

Of the 190 acres that make up the port, about 40 percent is wetlands, according to Hohensee, leaving 60 percent usable.

In 2005, the port’s governing authority, the West Calcasieu Port Board Authority, realizing that much of their available land was under-utilized, commissioned a study to look at possible uses. The study recommended that a part-time marketing director be hired for the port. Hohensee said that in the first half of 2006, the board decided they needed more than a marketing director and he was hired in June of 2006 to serve on a part-time contract basis as overall director. Also hired that year were attorney Glen James, CPA Darla Perry, and Sulphur engineering firm Meyer and Associates.

“We were able to start getting the snowball rolling on growing the port,” he said.

A $50,000 grant from the Louisiana Economic Development helped fund a master strategic plan for the port, which gave the board an idea of where they wanted to be and where they wanted to go.

“We’re looking to revisit that plan soon to reflect changes,” said Hohensee. He said that at the time the study was commissioned, there were not the growth opportunities and potential that the region has now.

“From 2007 on we started to really develop and experience some growth out here,” said Hohensee. “Daily barge counts exceeding 100 became the norm in 2014.”

He said that Mike Devall with Devall Towing, which handles all waterway activity at the port, anticipates this growth will continue and that daily barges will double by 2020.

“We were doing 40 to 50 a day nine years ago,” said Hohensee. “Today we do between 100 and 130 barges a day.”

Barge counts aren’t the only indicator of growth. In 2007, the port’s net assets were pegged at $2.9 million and the operating budget was $128,287. By year’s end 2014, port assets totaled $10.4 million and the budget was $395,497.

“The fact that we have six ports and a robust pipeline network has helped attract industrial development,” said George Swift, President and CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance.

“Our research indicates we are the reigning leader nationally with $32 billion in projects currently underway and proposed projects for a combined $86 billion,” he continued, “The West Calcasieu Port is very important with its location on the Intracoastal Canal. They’ve been very aggressive in recruiting tenants and expanding, which helps the entire area.”

[if !supportLists]·         [endif]Swift said all six ports provide different services to different sectors.

“Our niche is not a cargo port for moving freight through,” said Hohensee. “Our niche – and it has evolved – is providing marine services like barge fleeting, marine construction, dry barge cleaning, wet barge cleaning and stripping, marine fueling and concrete production.”

There are currently several tracts of land available for lease at the port. One of them, a 40-acre tract of land, is used as a dredged spoils containment area. Hohensee said the land, which will eventually be available to lease, is a prime spot as it is right on the canal and already built up for construction.

The port receives no tax dollars. Funding is solely from lease agreements with the port’s seven tenants and water the port sells to them. The Carlyss Waterworks has a 6-inch water line that runs to the port and the port extended it to run to tenants.

The West Calcasieu Port Board is comprised of five members. Appointments are made based on recommendations from the Mayor of Sulphur, the Sulphur City Council, West Calcasieu Parish Police Jury members, the West Calcasieu Chamber of Commerce and the Building and Trades Council. Current members are President Dick Kennison, Wilmer Dugas, Tim Daugherty, Dave Aguillard and Scott Foreman.

“Dick has done a superb job of leading the board and that’s one of the things that makes my job easy,” said Hohensee. “It’s an incredibly progressive board that understands the path that we’re going and subscribes to the ideas that we bring them – not all of them. They challenge, and they question but we work it out. They are very supportive and they deserve a lot of the credit.”

“We don’t rubber stamp anything,” added Kennison.

The port also has a Tenant Committee which considers applications for leasing to see if the proposed business would fit well with the other tenants. Chuck Stutes with Meyer and Associates, Glen James, Kennison, Perry and Hohensee serve on the board.

“We take the fiduciary responsibility we have very seriously,” said Hohensee, “As well as our responsibility to maximize the port’s potential, our responsibility to our tenants and to be good neighbors.”

The port’s oldest tenant, Devall Enterprises, has a lease agreement with the port through 2037. Both Hohensee and Kennison said the importance of Devall Enterprises as a tenant cannot be overstated.

“Devall is the dog and everybody else there is part of the tail,” said Kennison. “Devall is almost exclusively responsible for everybody else being here as a result of their presence and reputation.”

[if !supportLists]·         [endif]On July 1, 2014, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held for a new $640,000 barge loading ramp. The 80,000-pound capacity ramp was funded by a significant grant from Devall Towing and is accessible by a 700-foot hard-surface road, The road and its related infrastructure were funded through two economic development grants from the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury totaling $352,000. Hohensee said the barge project would not have been possible without the funding support from Devall.

“This demonstrates the importance of public/private partnerships,” he said.

Hohensee said that supplemental funding for the port comes from grants from the City of Sulphur, the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury’s economic development fund, the Department of Transportation and Development’s (DOTD) Port Priority Fund and federal grants. The DOTD funded maintenance dredging on the barge basin in 2009 and an 800-linear-ft. extension and some expansion of the barge basin that was complete in 2012. The port also secured $3 million in bonds in 2013 that they use as matching funds in applications for capital outlay funding grants from the state.

Hohensee said watching the port grow has been like watching a child move from toddler to teen to adult. He said that he enjoyed his 28-year military career and 30-year career in the local petroleum industry.

“But I love my job now,” he said.

Hohensee also praised the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury.

“In my estimation, much of what is going on (with industrial expansion) starts with the Police Jury,” he said. “I have to give them all the credit for all the good things so far and for their stewardship and forward-thinking.”

“Calcasieu Parish will probably be a shining star for years to come,” he said.