Shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries said it will look at redeveloping its Avondale shipyard with a Texas-based pipeline company.
After a six-month study, the companies could form a joint venture to redevelop the shipyard near New Orleans, which otherwise is expected lay off most of its 740 employees this summer.
"The joint study will explore opportunities ranging from manufacturing to terminal operations," Huntington Ingalls spokeswoman Beci Brenton wrote in an email.
Houston-based Kinder Morgan Energy Partners is the nation's largest pipeline company, transporting petroleum products, natural gas and carbon dioxide. It also runs petroleum terminals and stores natural gas.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said that the redevelopment could create 1,000 jobs. Her colleague, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said he would meet with Huntington Ingalls and local officials Monday at the shipyard to discuss its current status and future.
Huntington Ingalls has been trying to transfer Avondale to someone who would redevelop it but has found no takers. Dependent on federal money to build warships, it's been under political pressure to find a new use for what had been the largest industrial employer in the New Orleans area.
The company is building parts of an amphibious assault ship, the future USS Portland, at Avondale. But that work is scheduled to wrap up this summer. Without a new user, Huntington Ingalls plans to keep a facility that employs 138 engineers but lay off most other workers.
Brenton said Avondale wouldn't close immediately but the company can't maintain it forever.
"Obviously, if we cannot find a redevelopment opportunity, we will be force to close the facility," Brenton wrote.
Northrop Grumman announced in 2010 that it would close Avondale, which then had 5,000 employees, and shift operations to its Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard. It later spun off those and other shipyard operations as Huntington Ingalls, based in Newport News, Va.
The company is also trying to reactivate its closed Waggaman, La., facility near Avondale for other kinds of commercial work, possibly employing 200. Waggaman, which closed in 2010, made components for Avondale ships.
"We believe our best, near-term opportunity to capture commercial work will be through the Waggaman facility," Brenton wrote.
There are about 11,000 employees in Pascagoula and another 500 at a composite fabrication facility in Gulfport, Miss., that Huntington Ingalls also plans to close.
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