Industry and Federal Leaders Demonstrate Need for Maritime Infrastructure Investment at WISTA Annual General Meeting
At its Annual General Meeting in New Orleans last week, members of WISTA USA (Women’s International Shipping &Trading Association) were urged to support investment in infrastructure projects in order to maintain and grow the transportation of waterborne commerce in the United States. From U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-La.) to Spencer Murphy of Canal Barge Company, Rick Calhoun of Cargill, Gary LaGrange of the Port of New Orleans, Joel Dupre of Southern Recycling and Colonel Richard Hansen of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a clarion call was sounded for resources to be allocated to ports, waterway maintenance and dredging.
Senator Vitter, the luncheon keynote speaker, used the event to announce that the House/Senate Conference Committee had agreed upon the text of the WRDA bill (Water Resources Development Act). He expected that the House and Senate each would pass this important waterway legislation in the next few weeks and that President Obama would sign it into law shortly thereafter. He further encouraged WISTA members to speak directly to their legislators: “I am surprised at how many of my colleagues in Washington who have maritime interests in their jurisdictions are not engaged in this area. You and your members need to seek them out and highlight to them the importance of waterborne trade to our country’s viability.”
During the afternoon’s industry panel, Canal Barge’s Spencer Murphy emphasized the need to recapitalize our river infrastructure as a safety and competitive necessity. “Right now, we have to split 1,200-foot tows into two in order to transit 50 year old locks of 600feet,” Murphy stated. “The only way a U.S. farmer can compete against Brazil and other countries is on the cost and availability of transportation. It is critical that we ensure sound and adequate infrastructure.” The Port of New Orleans’ Gary LaGrange underscored the economic impact of a waterway closure, stating that “It costs $295 million per day if the Mississippi River is shut down. Our port has grown over 800% in the last 10 years, and we are dependent on navigable and open waterways to continue that growth.”
Rick Calhoun of Cargill pointed to capacity, competition and investment. “Our nation’s transportation infrastructure is being tasked to handle more and more cargo, such as shale oil and gas,” he observed. “We need all the capacity we can get”, he said, and encouraged WISTA members to become involved in this issue. Col. Hansen of the Army Corps of Engineers pointed to the reduced investment in infrastructure: “In the 1930s we were spending about $70 per person on maritime infrastructure” he stated. “In the 1960s this had reduced to $50 per person and $18 today. The United States’ infrastructure investment ranks 143rd in the world, just above Greece. Our glide path is unconscionable.”
R.Adm. Kevin Cook, Commander of the Coast Guard’s Eighth District, also addressed the delegates, highlighting the expansion of the energy industry in the United States, with LNG importers applying to be exporters, the construction of LNG bunkering operations, growth of chemical manufacturing, new drill ships coming to the Gulf of Mexico, and the increase in OSV (offshore supply vessels) and barge construction. He further underscored the leadership and career accomplishments of women in Eighth Coast Guard District.
To thank the speakers for their time and service, a donation to the Coast Guard Foundation was made in their name by WISTA USA.
More than 80 members of WISTA USA were hosted by the New Orleans Chapter for its Annual General Meeting under the leadership of President Alexandra Anagnostis of Total Marine Solutions, who thanked Adi Ferchmin of Chaffee McCall and the Chapter for their successful efforts and hospitality. The events surrounding the Annual General Meeting included a tour of the Southern Recycling Yard, participation in the Save our Lake clean-up efforts at Lake Pontchartrain and a reception at the National WWII Museum. Also present was WISTA International President Karin Orsel who cited the challenges facing the shipping industry of attracting the young generation, managing the strengths and risks of social media and promoting the work of WISTA.