After months of non-public negotiations and preparations, a new terminal port operator was announced at the monthly meeting of the Morgan City Harbor & Terminal District.
Inmobiliaria Lamol LLC, a new subsidiary of Grupo Lamol SA de CV, a Mexican company with businesses in the United States, has been created to assume operation of the port and is expected to do so as early as October.
“We are comfortable with them,” Jerry Gauthier, port president, said. “We’ve been negotiating with them for some time. Hopefully, in the near future, our attorneys will come to terms so we can finalize a deal.”
Nestor J. Navarro Jr. is the president of Navarro International LLC. He was born in Cuba, moved to the United States as a child, graduated from Port Allen High School and LSU and has lived in Mexico for most of the last 20 years, working in the shipping industry.
“We’ve worked with Nestor for 15 years,” Gauthier said of Navarro’s role as the port district’s representative in Mexico.
“I’m looking forward to coming back home to Louisiana,” Navarro said. “Hopefully, we can create this new shipping service to Mexico.”
Gauthier joked that “It looks like it is close enough to a deal that Nestor has actually moved to Thibodaux.”
“Yes,” Navarro said, “we feel very strongly about it, and after 19 years of living in Mexico, eight years in Mexico City and 10½ in Merida, Yucatan, our container is on its way. We’ve been sleeping on air mattresses. Our youngest son is now enrolled at ED White Catholic High School” in Thibodaux, he said.
Navarro is a partner with Grupo Lamol in Seybaplaya, Campeche.
Inmobiliaria Lamol is expected to replace Cenac Offshore as the port’s terminal operator.
Gauthier reported that Cenac opted out of additional contracts at the port.
“Cenac’s original intent was to do what Inmobiliaria is talking about doing,” Jerry Hoffpauir, executive director, said, adding that Cenac’s contract expires at the beginning of December.
“They haven’t really been active at all,” Hoffpauir said of Cenac. “They had leased the port for five years, the railroad spur, warehouse, dock, all of it,” he said.
Navarro spoke more of his company’s plans and the increase in maritime, truck and railroad traffic that it hopes to bring to the port.
“We are purchasing a ship to operate between Morgan City and Playa Campeche to move oil-related equipment in a multipurpose vessel,” he said after the meeting. Playa Campeche is on the Yucatán Peninsula, and the Bay of Campeche is the primary oil production area of Mexico.
He said that he hopes to move products from southern Mexico in backhaul to the port of Morgan City for further forwarding, including limestone and possibly fruits and vegetables including watermelons, mangos and limes.
“It is already approved by the Department of Transportation and Development of the state of Louisiana,” Navarro said.
He said that he hopes that truck traffic and railroad traffic through the port will increase.
“We already contacted the Louisiana & Delta Railroad to service the spur right here,” Navarro said.
“We’re going to be bringing either wheat or corn from up north by rail or water, and then it will be put into our vessel and brought to Mexico.
The port’s railroad spur was built in the mid-1990s, according to Hoffpauir, and the only port tenant who uses it is Baker Hughes to receive drilling mud.
“The rail shipments would start at about the first of next year,” Navarro said. “We hope that there will be more track, but right now, there is enough.”
Navarro said that he hopes to take over port operations in October.
“It’s going to take a while to develop,” he said. “We need to create jobs for the Morgan City, Berwick, area. That’s the main goal.”
“We have already identified cargo from Texas and Louisiana that they are sending by truck at very high cost,” he said.
Navarro said that there is already a client in southern Mexico who wishes to purchase rice, wheat and corn that would travel through Morgan City. He also said that it is possible that petroleum coke will move via rail to the port for export.
“We’re looking to create an intermodal port right here,” Navarro said.
Attorney Gerard Bourgeois advised the port commission that a public hearing would have to be held at a special meeting before the Inmobiliaria Lamol deal could be finalized. Conversations among commissioners suggested that the meeting would be later this month.
In other port business, the commission voted unanimously to award $19,600 to architect Carl Blum for a preliminary design for an emergency operating center.
“At some point sooner or later, a disastrous hurricane will wipe out the Fourchon area,” Gauthier.
“When that happens, oil and gas will rely totally on the port of Morgan City to keep that essential resource of oil and gas flowing. We looked at conceptually building an emergency response facility, and we talked to Carl Blum about design for such a facility,” he said.
The facility would be for essential services and homeland security in addition to port operation, Blum said.
In other business, Sarah Nash of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported that “the dredging in the bar channel is ongoing,” and that for “the bay channel, the contract has been awarded, but they haven’t mobilized yet.”