Gary LaGrange, executive director of the Port of New Orleans, states "Our economists tell us that 380,000 people realize their income as a result of the port of New Orleans, around the nation. Sixty two percent of the consumer-spending public in the United States receive their goods and depend on getting their goods through the gateway at the port of New Orleans" (Flakus 2006).
One of the assets of the Port of New Orleans is its connectivity to the rest of the country. Not only is it connected by the Mississippi River and its tributaries, it is the only deepwater port in the United States served by six class one railroads (Canadian National, CSX, Burlington Northern/Santa Fe, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific). This and its connection to the interstate roadway system gives port users direct and economical rail and roadway service to or from anywhere in the country.
Also supporting the ports of Louisiana is the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) which crosses southern Louisiana from the Texas state line east to the Mississippi state line. In 2000 over 520 million tons were moved by barge along the GIWW in Louisiana with estimated savings of $4.7 billion in transportation costs compared to non-water based transport (Richardson et al. 2004).
There are multiple links between port operations and the ecosystem. We focus on how the ecosystem may affect port operations and how we might place a value on coastal restoration to the port and shipping sector. According to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy (2004), marine transportation may be significantly affected by changes in environmental and climate conditions, such as increased frequency or intensity of storms and changes in sea level.
In fact, improving environmental and ecological conditions in a port region may be viewed as an important component of the port’s overall risk management strategy. For example, wetlands provide a variety of valuable ecosystem services, such as flood protection and erosion control (Farber et al. 2006). Wetland restoration also enhances a port’s capability to resist disasters. According to Adger et al. (2005), resilient socialecological systems incorporate diverse mechanisms for living with and learning from change and unexpected shocks. Disaster management requires multilevel governance systems that can enhance the capacity to cope with uncertainty and surprise by mobilizing diverse sources of resilience. Here, resilience refers to the capacity of linked socialecological systems to absorb recurrent disturbances such as hurricanes or floods so as to retain essential structures, processes, and feedback. Hazards in coastal areas often become disasters through the erosion of resilience, driven by environmental change and by human action. A study by Conner et al. (1989) has shown that along the northern Gulf of Mexico, hurricane impacts are often severe and long lasting in wetlands that have been modified by human impacts.
In 2005, the Port of New Orleans was closed for two weeks after Hurricane Katrina. One can only imagine the amount of commerce that had to be redirected and/or never made it to their destination, costing millions of dollars.
If we rank ports by cargo weight, two Gulf ports—South Louisiana and Houston—are on the top, each loading and unloading over 200 million short tons of cargo per year. These ports play a dominant role in trade of agricultural products (e.g., grain), petroleum, and other industrial raw materials.
According to 2004 U.S. Army Corps Navigation Data Center statistics, Louisiana has five of the top fifteen ports by tonnage in the United States: the Port of South Louisiana, the Port of New Orleans, the Port of Baton Rouge, the Port of Plaquemines and the Port of Lake Charles. The Port of Louisiana is the top ranked port by tonnage in the United States. If the adjacent Louisiana ports of South Louisiana and New Orleans were considered one and their tonnage added together, it would by tonnage be the largest port in the world. Together, these two ports account for $150 billion and 20 percent of U.S. import/export cargo traffic annually (Department of Commerce, 2005). The Port of Lake Charles is the largest liquid natural gas (LNG) port in the United States.
Rank Port Name Total Traffic
Looking at the table above, one can clearly see the economic importance of navigation in the Southeastern United States, specifically the Gulf of Mexico. At least ten of the top 14 major U.S. ports, listed in this table and ranked by tonnage, are located along the Gulf Coast Region. Not only are five out of these 10 Ports are located right here in Louisiana, but their combined total in tonnage tops the chart.