Battle of ports goes before 3rd Circuit

By Theresa Schmidt - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The ongoing dispute between the Ports of Lake Charles and West Cameron over the land where Sempra LNG is located was hashed out this morning before the Third Circuit Court of appeal.   For the first time ever a Third Circuit panel allowed news cameras to record the proceeding.

The Port of Lake Charles, West Cameron Port and Sempra went before a three judge panel of the Third Circuit as they try to resolve the ongoing dispute about the land where Sempra or Cameron LNG is located.

The LNG terminal along the Calcasieu Ship Channel, off Highway 27 in Hackberry is now complete. But the battle between the ports is not. The Lake Charles Port owns the land in Cameron Parish and leases it to Sempra which attorney Roy Cheatwood argues the law allows. "The legislature did not, with all due respect Judge Cooks, intend that everything be done within the district. If they had they would have said that. If this decision is not reversed this port will face serious obstacles in doing what it's supposed to do in maintaining and upkeeping this channel. Remember, that's what this money is needed for. $60 million lease, $65 million worth of claims," said Cheatwood.

However, West Cameron Port Attorney Neil Vincent argues the law requires the Port of Lake Charles to operate within its own boundaries. "Every argument the Port of Lake Charles has presented to this court either ignores territorial boundaries...what we're asking you to do is apply the law. The law says that Lake Charles Port does not have authority to conduct port harbor and terminal operations in West Cameron. There's reasons for that."

For more than an hour the three judge panel comprised of Chief Judge Gene Thibodeaux and Judges Sylvia Cooks and John Saunders listened and asked questions as they try to sort out the various legal issues and the dialogue was lively. Said Judge Cooks, "The whole reason it was created, these various districts, was so that they could define certain territorial limits of that district and operate within it."

Chief Judge Gene Thibodeaux raised the question, "Can the Port of New York, Charleston, San Francisco, Seattle come into Cameron or Calcasieu parish and just buy up all the land?"

And the judges asked for suggested remedies for the situation if the panel, for instance, decides the lease between Sempra and the Port of Lake Charles is null and void. Said Judge Saunders, "When you sell a business you envision that the people who buy the business will be able to run the business and make some money off it. So, why would that not be an equitable remedy?"

It's expected to be at least a month before the panel issues a decision.

Generally cameras are not allowed in the courtroom, but in this case KPLC's request was okayed by the three judge panel that heard today's arguments.

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