Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Galveston County Judge Mark Henry gave state of the county addresses to the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership General Membership meeting at Lakewood Yacht Club on Wednesday.
BAHEP President Bob Mitchell called on Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark to introduce Judge Henry.
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Henry talked about issues such as redistricting, developing a budget for next year, hurricane preparedness and other challenges.
“I think one of the things that we really face in the future is the challenge of water,” Henry said, noting the current drought and the future growth of the region. “I believe that our solution may be desalination plants. I’ve had some water experts talk to me and tell me it’s not exactly economic yet, but we’re getting there; and bottom line is we don’t have much of a choice.”
Henry said there are no funds for projects such as commuter rail to Houston, a bridge to Bolivar or the Ike Dike.
Harris County Commissioner Jack Morman introduced Judge Emmett.
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“Our finances in Harris County, by a national standard, are in very good shape,” Emmett said, discussing the challenges faced by the commissioners court in the budget process. “But by the standard we’ve become accustomed to, they are not in very good shape.”
However, Emmett said the prospects for the future are good.
“We are perfectly poised to be the gateway of North America going forward, to take advantage of international trade that’s going to be coming from places like India, Brazil and Africa,” Emmett said. “But it won’t come here unless we build a transportation infrastructure that can move those goods out of the ports.”
Emmett called on the region to “rationalize” its ports.
“You’ve got Galveston, Texas City, Houston, Freeport, Beaumont, Port Arthur,” Emmett said. “All of them don’t need to be container ports, all of them don’t need to be ro-ro or break bulk; and they need to find a way to cooperate.”
Emmett was more optimistic than Henry on the prospect for passenger rail service between Houston and Galveston, as well as high speed rail between Houston and Dallas.
“There is good news on that front,” Emmett said, noting the emergence of Gulf Coast Rail District. “It is the entity that we need to focus on that can draw down the federal grants and state grants and they can cooperate with the Texas Department of Transportation in doing these projects.”
Correction: (Guidry News Service incorrectly reported in our original posting of this article that Emmett suggested that light rail, rather than full size commuter rail, be considered for the Houston to Galveston route. Instead, Emmett specifically noted that no one has envisioned the line as a light rail line, but as a less-expensive commuter rail line that could someday serve as a pre-cursor to a high-speed rail project.)
“We can actually sell this as a pre-curser to a high speed rail project,” Emmett said. “I think that rail will begin to move forward. And for those who say rail never pays for itself, neither do highways.”