Most of the freight growth is attributed to a 37% increase in break bulk cargo imports of commodities such as steel, natural rubber and coffee. Steel, for example, was up 28% over five-year averages, at 4.15 million short tons. New Orleans ranks in the top three of the nation's steel handling ports, commanding 15.5% of the total market. General cargo was up 20.7% year over year at 9.38 short tons.
Gains came despite a 14% decline in container traffic, due mostly to the port's loss of its container terminal at France Road after Hurricane Katrina. “We must replace our container capacity lost at France Road and recreate it on the Mississippi River,” notes Gary LaGrange, the port's president and CEO. “We must also be vigilant in supporting existing businesses at the Port, such as New Orleans Cold Storage which is bearing the brunt of the MR-GO [Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet] closure.”
For the fiscal year that ran from July 2005 to June 2006, the port achieved 86% of pre-Katrina figures, with total operating revenues of $38.9 million. These gains were despite concessions, subsidies and other incentives by the port's Board of Commissioners to help offset costs and aid in economic recovery for those tenants affected by the storm.
“While these figures are encouraging,” continues LaGrange, “we still have a long road ahead of us to fully recover and continue to grow to meet our customers' demands. We must convince our legislators and elected officials to invest in the port and invest in our maritime infrastructure. These investments are crucial to the future of New Orleans and the future of Louisiana.”