Veteran port commissioners reflect on history of phenomenal growth
Louisiana established the Greater Lafourche Port Commission in 1960, but it was not until 1971 that the first publicly elected Board of Commissioners took office, eventually hiring its first director, Ted Falgout, seven years later. Today, a nine-member board, elected to six-year non-staggered terms, oversees the operations of Port Fourchon.
World Oil sat down with Board President Perry Gisclair and the two longest-serving commissioners, Donald Vizier—first elected in 1989—and Larry Griffin, elected in 1992, to look back on the remarkable history of Port Fourchon. They discussed an operating budget that jumped more than seven-fold in just two decades, while the rush to meet expanding demand from the deepwater arena, that occurred nearly overnight, saw slips increase, from 400 ft wide to 700-ft, to meet the requirements of more and larger support vessels.
WO: What inspired you to seek election to the board?
Donald Vizier: What first possessed me to get on the board was that I’m in the contracting business, and I saw all these big (port) contracts going out, and smaller companies down here couldn’t get a part of it, because the contracts were so big. My hope was that maybe I could get on the board, and cut down those big contracts and make them smaller. Once I got on the board, however, I found you can’t do that. If you’re going to build a 1,000-ft bulkhead, you need to give it to one contractor. So, I had thought I could try to split them up to give the smaller contractors a chance, but I was wrong.
Larry Griffin: I had the urge to get on the commission, because I come from a fishing family and I figured if I got elected, I might be able to help the fishermen in some way. I didn’t want the oil companies to come in and push them out, because they were here first. I just wanted to make sure that fishermen still had a place in Fourchon. The oil companies were developing so fast that I wanted to see that the fishermen have a say-so at the port.
Perry Gisclair: I had a lot of the same concerns as Larry, as I was in the seafood business for 45 years, in the processing end of it. Also, I’ve always been in politics. I served eight years on the parish council and six years on the Wildlife and Fishery Commission in Baton Rouge, so when I came back, I had the urge to run, and I’m in my second term now. I guess one thing that also played heavily on my mind was that my dad was on the first elected port board in 1970.
WO: Considering the extraordinary growth that Port Fourchon has seen over the years, what in particular stands out to you?
Larry Griffin: When I first came on, we had a (operating) budget that was around—I think—$7 million, and now it’s $78 million. So, we’ve gone from $7 million to $78 million in around 22 years.
Donald Vizier: Our financial statement was one page. But, I think what really blew this port up was that when I got elected, they had just started the E slip, and at the time, they just had one leg of the slip done, and I thought the port was lagging behind. Then, in 1995, when they (the federal government) provided the tax break for deep water, that’s what really opened the door for us. I wasn’t there when they designed the slip, but after the first leg, we saw the boats were getting bigger, and the slip just wasn’t wide enough. So, for the next leg, they enlarged it and made it so much wider.
Perry Gisclair: During that time, the port was growing—it went from baby steps to giant steps. And, at the same time, our tenants also were going from baby steps to giant steps. They were taking on a lot of debt and taking a lot of chances, and this was no sure shot. But they were willing to take the chance and jump in, so the port was willing to go ahead and do what it had to do, at that time.
Larry Griffin: When I was first elected to the board, we had a director, Ted Falgout, who would plan projects out six years. But then, the demand came so quickly that for some of the new slips, everything we had projected out, six to eight years, had to be done now.
WO:That brings us to today and the decline in oil prices. What role do you see the port playing in this economic situation?
Perry Gisclair: I’m very concerned about our area, especially with what’s happening now. Once we start losing jobs and people, we’ll get very concerned, and we’ll do what we have to do. The one thing the whole board is committed to is our tenants, and we have to do what we can to help our tenants, and make sure they stay. We’re proactive, and if something happens, we’ll see where we can take action and help them out.
Larry Griffin: What I like about the board is that we agree to disagree. We all have certain ideas, but whichever idea we think is best, that’s what we’ll go with. But, we have to remember, this is the public’s port. We just try to run it for them, as best as we can.Related Articles
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