St. Bernard residents struggle with Port of New Orleans’ plans


Devin Cruice

The Port of New Orleans outreach center is pictured in Violet, Louisiana March 22, 2022. St. Bernard residents told The Maroon they are not satisfied with the port’s community efforts.

Devin Cruice

A low hum and ambient bangs echo in St. Bernard Parish throughout all hours of the day. Lifelong Violet resident Mario Williams said he thinks the construction he would hear and live next to, which would modernize the Port of New Orleans, would destroy the parish’s way of life.

Authorities with the port say that Violet is a viable spot for expansion, but residents disagree. Officials say the project will take 1,100 acres of land in Violet and replace it with a state-of-the-art international container terminal, bringing jobs and tax revenue, but residents say it will also bring more noise and pollution.
“The parish is going to decline. People are not gonna wanna live around here with all that, just like in New Orleans by the port they got,” Williams said.
He said he also thinks the port rushed the plan into a developing area with a deep history. Williams also said his problem with the port is the lack of outreach and connection the organization has had with the community.
“I’m angry, period, because they are trying to force something here, especially in a suburban area,” Williams said. He said he thinks Port of New Orleans workers wouldn’t want this to happen in their neighborhoods and that authorities are not considering the effects the new construction is having on his community.
“They don’t care about the people here. They only care about the dollars, you see. We live here. They don’t,” he said.
Community members like Williams have rallied under an organization protesting the project, Save Our St. Bernard. President of the organization and retired shipping business owner, Robby Showalter, said that the port’s current plan is not a fit for his parish, seconding Williams’ remarks.
“This is the first time I’ve seen any port being targeted in a neighborhood, a suburban neighborhood,” Showalter said.
Showalter was the Chief Financial Officer and later a partner of Boasso Global, a company that services ports worldwide. Having been to countless ports, Showalter attested to what he saw in areas surrounding them.
“The blight, litter, congestion, pollution– it’s phenomenal, and I don’t want this to happen to my parish.”
The Port of New Orleans claims that it can implement the project in a way that would avoid disruptions and told residents in an open letter from October 2021 that, “Port NOLA remains committed to working with our neighbors to design a project that brings opportunity for St. Bernard families and businesses while protecting local quality of life. We recognize that a successful project that respects the community’s needs is not possible without your input and insight.”
Port officials said that the current step is the Environmental Impact Study, which is community and environmental impact research that evaluates how a project would affect an area. It is estimated to take two years to complete. The National Environmental Policy Act requires that big projects like this mitigate or prevent the negative impacts. After that, there’s a long road of further permitting, ground-breaking, and construction, an infographic from the port said.
St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis said that the parish needs to handle the port strategically during this process, staying involved in order to point out what can be mitigated.
“We have to go through this process, and we have to stay at the table. We have to still be engaged,” McInnis said.
He also said that the port would need to develop alternatives for transporting the containers in and out of the parish to have any public official’s support. McInnis and most of the parish’s council have said the parish has little control over the port.
The Port of New Orleans has jurisdiction over Jefferson, Orleans, and St. Bernard parishes, and a private land purchase in Violet sealed the deal. McInnis said that he worries about the residents in the immediate area there most.
“Those people are the people who are going to be impacted. That’s their life. That’s where they grew up. It’s…It’s their heritage. It’s their culture.”