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|Energy prices fuel interest in port|
As gas prices rise, more companies throughout the United States could look to ship cargo via rail and water, which would mean more business for ports.
Truckers throughout the United States have already staged protests over high gas prices. Many independent truckers say they cannot remain in business if they have to continue paying more than $1,000 each time they fill their tanks.
While shipping by truck is quicker, water barge shipments are the least expensive. According the United States Department of Transportation, it costs about 35 times more to ship by truck than water.
That may be why Greater Ouachita port director Paul Trichel said he has received many phone calls lately from companies looking to use the West Monroe port as a transportation source.
"Everybody understands it's cheaper, but we have to deal with the steamship companies because they rule the roost, and our shippers have not been able to get a deal with the steamship companies," Trichel said.
Local shippers such as Graphic Packaging and International Paper in Bastrop must agree to contracts with steamship companies since containers used for water shipping belong to the steamship companies.
"We work on that every day, but it's a problem that's out of our hands," Trichel said of the negotiations between local shippers and the steamship companies.
One of the major obstacles in those negotiations is because Greater Ouachita Port has little in-bound cargo.
"We're heavy on exports and we need more imports around here," Trichel said. "I fully believe we will get more imports. It's just a matter of who and when."
"All we need is just one significant importer for us to take off," he added.
That "significant importer" could be a major industrial concern located in the former Guide plant east of Monroe or at the state's mega site at Franklin Farms in Richland Parish, he said.
While water cargo began shipping from the port in January, it still has a ways to go to provide rail service to multiple clients.
Currently, Graphic Packaging is the only local company shipping from the port via rail since the port has to use Graphic Packaging's rail switch to get to and from the port.
Port officials are seeking federal and state funding for a rail extension, which would allow the port to include other customers - such as International Paper – to ship by rail.
Port officials have asked the Legislature for $1 million which they believe would help them secure another $1 million in federal funds for the rail extension project.
If the port can secure the funding to complete its rail extension project, Trichel believes the port would reap more benefits as businesses and industry look at rail and water shipments to avoid high gas prices.