Trafigura on track to breathe life back to Burnside

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

As many Ascension Parish residents know, Burnside Terminal is once again seeing life behind its doors. The terminal, once a focal point of industry throughout our region, was purchased by Trafigura, a global trading company with a presence in the crude oil, petroleum, metals and ores markets. At a time when Ascension Parish is seeing signs of growth and opportunity, the reopening of the Burnside Terminal doors is a welcome reminder of the progress and industry that is the cornerstone to our Mighty Mississippi River.

Recently, I was fortunate to chat with St. Amant resident Randy Comeaux. Comeaux is the new Burnside Terminal Manager, whose history with Burnside brings a smile to his face. Comeaux began his career as a helper back in 1979, when it was owned by the Ormet Corporation. After a few months he was promoted to operator, and remembers fondly his first foray into operating heavy machinery. Fast forward 30-plus years, and Comeaux's passion for the terminal is as strong as ever.

CG: Can you tell me a bit about Trafigura and why they decided setting up a base in Ascension Parish?

RC: Trafigura decided on Burnside for a several reasons. First, it was an existing coal handling facility which had been in operation since 1956. That, together with the fact that the facility is in a good location, has land available and is in deep water presented a lot of opportunity. The infrastructure was already there and it had a good history.

CG: What about the parish and its existing facility made this an easy decision?

RC: Ascension Parish is the fastest growing region in La. and one of the fastest growing parishes in the United States. What's good is that it offers a fantastic supply of highly-skilled workers in our industry because along the area are several stevedoring operations that have similar operations to ours. That is a big advantage: having people who are already trained, as opposed to having to train them from the ground up. Another plus is that Ascension Parish is a very open community that welcomes the development of new businesses in the area through incentives and support.  As we've said in the past, we're really impressed at the level of support, commitment, energy and encouragement that Ascension Parish and the state of Louisiana have given to our plans.

CG: What are the hopes for growth throughout the area?

RC: Ascension Parish has experienced fast growth in the last 10 years and most likely will continue to grow. We look forward to being a part of that growth and expansion in a safe and sustainable manner. In terms of jobs, we expect to create up to 350 temporary construction jobs in order to meet the demands of the project.  In time, the Burnside facility will be supporting about 120 permanent and highly skilled jobs.

CG: Why is it so important to keep employment, even with service providers, within the state?

Utilizing local Louisiana-owned service companies and contractors where possible during the construction and maintenance phases of the terminal provides the right framework to reinvest in the community. For one thing, it keeps dollars local and it also helps give back to the community for their willingness to allow us to conduct business in the state and in Ascension Parish.

CG: For the layman, what is it the new plant will be doing exactly?

RC: We will be taking domestic coal produced in the U.S. and will receive it via barge and railcars. We'll store the coal on the property and will reload it in ocean-going vessels which will deliver the coal to various ports all over the world. A good number of the facilities along the river can only receive coal by barge, however the Burnside Terminal will be able to receive the coal both by barge and by rail. The redeveloped terminal will reduce pressure on existing facilities while providing a logistics platform on the Mississippi which is needed and will offer multiple modes of transport.

CG:  How will Burnside want to stand tall when it comes to supporting the local community?

RC: We want to stand tall through multiple ways. One of those ways is by “keeping it local” and buying supplies from the surrounding area. We are fully committed to continue engaging local Louisiana-owned service companies and contractors where possible during the construction and maintenance of the terminal. We are also committed to rehabilitating, maintaining and running the Burnside terminal to the highest standards. This means being a good neighbor to the people and businesses of Ascension Parish. We will always be mindful of the environmental importance of the Mississippi and the delta wetlands, and to the rich local cultural heritage. From planning and design through to construction, operation, and maintenance, the project will always comply strictly with all parish, state, and federal requirements on environmental protection, management, and stewardship. And last but not least, we will strive to maintain open communication with the community to keep all residents and interested parties apprised of developments at the Terminal. We at Burnside will strive to become the model for other terminals along the Mississippi river.

CG: Why, on a personal level, it is important to see this reinvigoration of the terminal happening?

RC: It's exciting to say the least. I have seen Burnside in its heydays and on its low days back when vessels were not coming to the terminal due to the economy. Being part of its rebuilding and putting it back in the coal market as a major player is also rewarding. I started my career at Burnside and now it feels as if I had just made a big circle over the last 33 years. Burnside was so much a part of my life at a young age; it helped me get where I am today. As the Terminal's manager, I am now being part of its modernization and the project of making it a state-of-the art facility and one of the top ten coal and bulk logistics facilities in the USA. That's a truly enriching opportunity.