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Will a defunct Avondale Shipyard turn Westwego, Louisiana into a ghost town?
Posted On: Aug 03, 2010

By Gregory Boyce, Reprinted from the New Orleans Progressive Examiner

It’s a sad ending to a novel whose beginning and middle chapters are mostly full of happy human interest stories; neighborhoods that once beamed with pride from first time home owners, a neighbors’ observance of a couple’s newborn child growing up and becoming a little “Trick or Treater”…you know, the kid with the adorable smile who evolves and grows up to be – in front of your eyes – a college graduate, and let’s not forget the chapters that are devoted to family reunions that are the end result of weddings and funerals.

Yes, the decision to close Avondale Shipyard by Avondale Shipyard's owner, Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) last Tuesday – July 13, 2010 – is the dagger in the heart of a community that has already suffered enormous loses from Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Gustav and most recently, oil…oil that poisoned the waters that took away a big chunk of an industry that consistently paid the mortgages and the boat notes of the locals long before they knew of the coming of a young man named Archie Manning and the New Orleans Saints.

Understanding the end…The Official Line

Northrop Grumman Corporation confirmed that it will shut down its Avondale shipbuilding operation. The official line coming from the once mighty shipbuilder is, “we're looking to exit shipbuilding completely.”

CEO and President Wes Bush announced plans to merge the company's Gulf Coast shipbuilding operations and explore planned alternatives for future shipbuilding endeavors. Bush also said that "we foresee little synergy between Shipbuilding and our other businesses. It is now appropriate to explore separating Shipbuilding from Northrop Grumman." In other words, “we outta here, see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya.”

Under the current consolidation plans, ship construction at Avondale will wind down sometime in 2013. Future LPD-class ships will be built in a single production line at the company's Pascagoula, Mississippi facility. Northrop Grumman announced “some” opportunities may develop in Pascagoula for Avondale shipbuilders who wish to relocate.

Westwego

Avondale Shipyard is located approximately 20 miles upriver from New Orleans, nearest a stretch of earth named Westwego. It’s the people who make Westwego, Louisiana the beehive that it is, that stand to lose the most from this most inopportune “business decision” made by an autonomous faceless / heartless board of directors that represent the Northrop Grumman Corporation.

According to Stephen Moret, Louisiana’s Secretary of Economic Development, at least 5,000 jobs directly linked to Avondale Shipyard will be lost and another 7,000 jobs that are indirectly linked to Avondale will be lost as well.

The census in 2000 calculated Westwego’s population to be a little less than 11,000. With an expectant loss of at least 12,000 jobs associated with Avondale Shipyard and with Westwego being the closest town to the shipyard, the future of Westwego instantly looks bleak.

Situated on the west bank of the mighty Mississippi River, it’s foreseeable that Westwego with the calculated loss of jobs that were generated from Avondale Shipyard, will go the way of old western towns that once boomed with enterprises…enterprises that were born from gold and silver strikes, but unfortunately / inevitably, - like a sickly 90 year old man – once the minerals stopped flowing, dried up and became ghost towns inhabited by ghosts who remembered better times.

Officially since 1938, Avondale Shipyard has employed metal workers, welders, pipefitters, electricians and a whole list of specialty jobs that are related to shipbuilding that has kept Westwego’s population employed.

Is this the death of “the goose that laid the golden eggs” and if so, why?

Is the goose that laid the golden eggs on its last breath? In a political climate / environment where big business has nearly the same rights of a U.S. citizen, - as recently interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court - and big business decides that it no longer wishes to honor the local town's people with employment opportunities who by the way, for over 8 decades magnificently performed the tasks of shipbuilding, making billionaires of company shareholders, well, bets are on that the honorable towns people of Westwego, will soon get the short end of the proverbial "dukey stick”.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers from Louisiana want to meet with Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a former Mississippi governor, to discuss the closing. Mabus heads the administration's recovery efforts for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said she will urge Mabus and Northrop Grumman officials to "reverse this short-sighted decision."

Republican Sen. David Vitter, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said President Barack Obama also must "step up." – Funny the president is only a socialist, big business interfering, big government bureaucrat when Republicans voting districts are not affected by catastrophe. (Just food for thought)

Setting aside politics for a moment, what happens to the outdoor seafood market right off of highway 90 when Avondale closes in 2013? What happens to the proprietors of Kass Bros Inc., or Matrana’s Produce? What do we tell the families that have called Louisiana home for countless generations and now if they’re fortunate, will have to locate to keep their jobs? And the unfortunate folks, what happens to them now? Property values will fall until homes are nearly worthless.

Perhaps if we stopped spending trillion of dollars overseas pumping up other countries economies and making – what did Forrest Gump call it – “Gazillionaires” out of selected foreign nationals, perhaps we could find the money in the U.S. budget to continue building ships in Louisiana…you think? Senator Vitter, Senator Landrieu did you know that the U.S. is spending over $100 billion each year supporting troops that are stationed in Japan, Okinawa, Germany, Italy, England, Panama and over 800 other countries? Ah…why?

Does any politician have the intestinal fortitude to present a bill that will stop the madness of our government providing security forces for other countries, including the boosting of their economies?

Are not our own national economies more valuable than the economy of another nation that has the ability to generate their own income? Or are we destined to continue to lose another shipyard somewhere in the United States and create in turn ghost towns that will rival the old ghost towns of western towns with forgotten names?

Westwego, Louisiana is on the corporate chopping block with little to keep it from going the way of Tombstone, Arizona, except the will of Americans who are armed with knowledge. Call your local representative in government and ask why the U.S. has over 200 military bases in Germany alone. Hello? What money making entities stand to gain significant profit by having our troops overseas boost foreign economies while our own domestic economies dry up and disappear? Inquiring minds would like to know.

To the residents of Westwego, Louisiana…it ain’t over until it’s over. Fight and ask the right questions of your local representatives in Congress and the Senate that pertain to your economic survival. Not to do so will only make a ghost town of your homes and businesses and it may even help build a new base in Germany…Germany? WTF, the war ended in 1945 and the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, why are we still there? Inquiring minds want to know.

Until next time Louisianans, Good Day, God Bless and Good Fishing.


 
 
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