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A Clear Path Ahead: The Port of Lake Charles Keeps Pace With Boom

Posted on: August 18th, 2015

If you’ve ever flown in or out of Lake Charles, you’ve likely been struck by the Southwest Louisiana landscape from 30,000 feet up. Astronauts in orbit seeing Earth below are said to experience the Overview Effect—a powerful shift in awareness that brings the “big picture” into light. On a much smaller scale, a similar feeling can be felt when flying over our waterways; you can’t help but feel the significance of our region’s biggest asset in the big economic picture.

“The role Southwest Louisiana plays in national and global economies can be measured by the Calcasieu River Ship Channel,” said Bill Rase, executive director of the Port of Lake Charles, “The channel is a big reason why companies across the globe now recognize Lake Charles.”

Southwest Louisiana’s economy, culture and history are hard wired with the influence of the channel, which—according to Lake Area Industry Association, an organization comprised of area oil and petrochemical plants—feeds the nation 7.5% of its daily petroleum products consumption. The channel has become the ideal environment for industry leaders like Phillips 66, Citgo, Axiall, Sasol, Magnolia LNG, Big Lake Fuels, Lake Charles LNG and Cameron LNG, among others.

The channel is maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and dredging is never a one-person job. Port leadership and channel users regularly advocate to Congress for increased maintenance funds, which will help the channel reach federally mandated dimensions and reduce transportation costs to channel users. Without proper channel maintenance, the region could expect to see a much smaller dollar figure for announced capital investments.

“The economic boom is dependent upon our deep water access,” continued Rase. “In addition to our pipeline infrastructure and access to natural gas, the channel’s importance in the big picture cannot be overstated.”

Appointed executive director of the Port of Lake Charles in 2010, Rase stands at the helm during an exciting time for our region when evolving transportation demands are being met with innovative and proactive solutions. The Port’s senior management team works across department lines and embodies all aspects of port operations from the ground up—a quality Rase encourages for his team.

Prior to his tenure at the Port, Rase worked at numerous ports and terminal companies along the east coast and Gulf Coast. His father worked for a stevedoring company in New Orleans, so Rase’s roots in the maritime industry run deep. After a successful career as a professional golfer—during which he played on the PGA tour for two years—Rase began working for New Orleans Stevedoring Company. In 2002, Rase landed at the Port of Lake Charles where he served as director of operations before his appointment as executive director.

“After working through the ranks, it became clear that the more you can learn about all aspects of a port, the better,” said Rase. “Just as we encourage our team to diversify their roles, we expect the same of our mission. The Port has to constantly evolve and diversify its capabilities in order to meet the needs of a global market.”

While the average person may think the Port begins and ends at the city docks, the reality is that operations extend beyond Lake Charles. The Port District encompasses 203 square miles, on which the Port owns and operates 5,000 acres throughout the District. Together with the Port’s numerous tenant facilities, Southwest Louisiana’s global ties grow as more international eyes look to the region.

“Smart growth is key to sustaining an economic boom,” Rase said. “As new facilities achieve project milestones and new cargo handling demands come up, we aim to improve and modernize our services and capabilities.”

Located at the Port, the IFG Holdings bulk grain elevator, which is already drawing international customers, is close to being operational, and it will move 1 million tons of grain annually. The Port’s loop train track system works congruently with the elevator to increase handling speed and overall efficiency.

Port leadership commissioned a traffic study that evaluated the current capabilities of the channel, and it projected that deep-draft ship traffic on the channel will double by 2020. The study found that the channel could easily handle the growth if it is properly dredged. The Port will continue filling a need for project cargo as facilities look to transport equipment and construction materials as close to their project sites as possible.

In addition to a new administrative building and modernized warehouses, Rase reminds us that the Port fuels our region’s workforce. “Many people don’t realize that most of the jobs in the area, in some way, depend on the channel and the Port,” said Rase. “At the end of the day, we are as much of an economic driver as we are an advocate for the betterment of Southwest Louisiana.”

The Port of Lake Charles is governed by a seven-member board of commissioners and comprises two marine terminals and over 5,000 acres of property zoned for industrial use, including an industrial park. For more information, call 337-439-3661.