Statement by Commissioners Bentzel and Sola Following Meetings with Gulf Coast Region
Commissioners Carl Bentzel and Louis Sola traveled to the Southeastern United States in November for meetings with port officials and industry representatives in New Orleans, Mobile, and Gulfport.
The purpose of the trip was to evaluate the region’s inland distribution network and to review alternate port options for international container shipping. The Commissioners’ review of potential Gulf Coast shipping options is consistent with the on-going review mandated by Section 24 of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022, which called for policy makers, including the FMC, to review the use of U.S. inlands ports for storage and transfer of cargo containers.
“Pandemic related congestion taught us that our supply chain needs to be prepared to implement contingencies. The larger ports will always provide a baseline of services for the majority of our Nation’s container shipping needs, but a more sophisticated shipping network is evolving that will require more efficient inland access to large ports, and expanded use of alternative ports,” said Commissioner Bentzel.
“If you hit your finger with a hammer, you don’t usually do it again,” said Commissioner Sola, suggesting shippers won’t quickly forget lessons learned in the pandemic era.
The meetings with the Southern ports began with a roundtable convened by the Port of New Orleans exploring the future of the U.S. barge industry and the increasing volumes of international cargo moving on domestic inland waterways.
“As a Nation, we have an enormous amount of capacity on our inland waterways that can accommodate a container on barge industry. We need to create greater transparency on the availability and capacity that already exists on our inland waterways, and the competitive cost advantages of harnessing this capacity. The Port of New Orleans briefed us on the plans for their new state-of-art terminal complex, along with commitment to expand potential container-on-barge services,” said Commissioner Bentzel.
Participating in the barge roundtable were representatives from the Big River Coalition, Seacor, New Orleans Terminal, PortsAmerica and Canal Barge.
“I believe that barge containers will play an increasingly important role in connecting our inland distribution centers to the global economy. New Orleans will be at the epicenter, with their new container terminal coming online and their established barge network,” said Commissioner Sola.
In Mobile, Alabama, the Commissioners convened an Inland Port Intermodal Rail Roundtable that featured representatives from the Alabama Department of Transportation, Alabama Legislature, APM Terminals, City of Mobile, CSX Transportation, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing of Alabama, and the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce. The roundtable was moderated by the Chairman of the Economic Development Committee of the Mobile Chamber and focused on the growing intermodal cargo moving through Mobile and the partnerships that have contributed to this growth.
“The partnerships and investments that have led to impressive intermodal cargo growth in Mobile are creating an impact on both the state and the entire region. It was gratifying as someone whose family originated in Mobile and is a University of Alabama School of Law alumni, to see that Mobile is the fasting growing port in the U.S. The commitment that the Port of Mobile has made to their intermodal system by—working with partners APM Terminals and CSX transportation in making infrastructure investments is impressive and is increasingly driving freight fluidity throughout the State of Alabama and the surrounding region,” said Commissioner Bentzel.
“We’re a consumer Nation,” said Commissioner Sola, “There are about three ports in the country that have an approximately 50-50 balance of imports and exports, and Mobile is one of them. The majority of them are 70, 80 or 90% imports. Mobile is in rarified air.”
The final stop of the trip was the Port of Gulfport, Mississippi where the Commissioners met with port leadership to discuss pending port projects and new inland opportunities to enhance Mississippi’s economic connectivity both regionally and globally. The Port of Gulfport’s work in deepening and widening its federal navigation channel to attract larger ships will help in creating greater commercial viability for the port and region. The channel project will also allow larger military ships to call, benefitting the port’s status as a designated strategic port.
“I’m excited for Gulfport. They have a great baseline to build from. The new terminal and the activity that is happening around the port is impressive. I wholeheartedly support their efforts to secure funding for channel deepening to further expand containerized shipping opportunities. I believe that with new post-Katrina infrastructure in place, they could also be exploring opportunities that require less channel depth such as breakbulk or Ro/Ro shipping,” said Commissioner Bentzel
“There is great value in Commissioners meeting with port, shipping, and labor leaders around the country. The opportunity to discuss the critical matters of the day in a one-on-one setting can help Commissioners determine how best to promote a competitive and viable ocean transportation system. I am grateful to all who participated,” said Commissioner Sola.
Carl W. Bentzel and Louis E. Sola are Commissioners of the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission. The thoughts and comments expressed here are their own and do not necessarily represent the position of the Commission.