By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor
Traffic and tonnage through the Port of Greater Baton Rouge increased significantly in 2021 as the facility continued improvements and prepared for a $9 billion renewable energy project for this year, according to an annual report.
The port’s 2021 Annual Comprehensive Financial Report highlights developments, operations and finances for the year ending December 31, 2021.
“The port’s public facilities handled 15,864,370 short tons in 2021, as compared to 13,355,767 short tons in 2020, an increase of 18.8%. While all facilities experienced increases, the greatest increase was at the petroleum terminal with a 165% increase,” the document read.
“In 2021, there were 235 ship calls at the docks, a 24% increase over the previous year.”
The facility, ranked seventh in the nation for total tonnage in 2020 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, also executed all surface leases required for an anticipated $9 billion renewable energy project by Gron Fuels slated to begin construction this year.
The project is funded in part by a taxpayer-financed development and infrastructure grant of up to $15 million over the next six years to set up the site, which is expected to produce up to 60,000 barrels per day of low-carbon renewable diesel, and possibly renewable jet fuel, utilizing soybean oil, corn oil and animal fats, according to a 2020 news release from Gov. John Bel Edwards.
State officials expect the complex to create an estimated 1,025 new direct jobs with an average annual salary of $98,595. Gron Fuels plans to leverage the state’s Quality Jobs and Industrial Tax Exemption programs. The former provides up to a 6% cash rebate of annual gross payroll for new direct jobs for up to a decade, while the latter would allow the company to avoid paying up to 80% of property taxes for five years, with a possible extension for another five.
The port is also working through a $16 million expansion of the Northern Berth to increase capacity for deep draft vessels, and expects to take possession this year of a new $6.9 million barge crane for Louis Dreyfus Commodities that will be paid for from the state’s capital outlay program.
Other improvements detailed in the report include the completion of $43.5 million in rail improvements to add capacity and a $5 million expansion of the Inland Rivers Marine Terminal storage container facility completed in 2021.
The annual report shows the port “continues to be in sound financial condition” with a 10% increase in operating revenues over 2020 to $19.5 million for 2020.
“Net position increased by $10,421,050 mostly due to an increase in dockage and wharfage,” according to the report. “Total net position was $125,733,714 at year-end, as compared to $115,312,664 the previous year.”
The boost is due in part to increased exports, which decreased 6% between 2019 and 2020 to $59.6 billion in goods to international markets.
The state’s top five export markets are China, Mexico, Canada, Netherlands and Brazil, while the top five exports consisted of agricultural, petroleum/coal and chemicals, processed foods and oil and gas products.
Louisiana’s largest market was China at $10.8 billion, followed by Mexico at $5.4 billion.
The biggest export is soybeans at $12.5 billion, or 21%. Other top exports include petroleum oils at $9.1 billion, natural gas at $7.5 billion, and corn at $4.8 billion.