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Business & Industry
Port of Houston Authority Commission
by Jim Guidry
Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Members of the Port of Houston Authority Commission, sitting as the Board of Pilot Commissioners for the Ports of Harris County on Tuesday voted unanimously to grant a two and one-half percent rate increase for the pilots, but to limit the increase to one year rather than nine percent over  the three years that was requested.
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West Gulf Maritime Association President Nathan Wesley spoke in support of the application.

“Prior to their submission of the rate increase the pilots met in a small group in multiple meetings, and they met with industry in a large meeting,” Wesley said.  “As a result of those meetings the pilots reduced the amount of increase they seek.”

Captain Steve Conway, presiding officer for the Houston Pilots, said the organization will be adding members in the future.

“What we are all focused on here is 2014, the Panama Canal expansion,” Conway said, explaining that they hope to add six deputies to accommodate expansion of the port’s operation when the canal expansion is complete.  “We have a three year training program, so we need to go out in industry and attract the highest qualified candidates to bring into this program so they will be in place by that time.”

During its regular meeting, the port commission held an extensive discussion of a bill for drainage fees assessed by the City of Houston. Listen: MP3 RealPlayer

Commissioner Jimmy Burke questioned the legality of the fees.

“It just gives me great heartburn to understand the millions of dollars that the port authority spends to maintain what, in part, is the largest outfall facility the city of Houston has to start with, as far as storm water drainage is concerned,” Burke said, referring to the Houston Ship Channel.

Port staff said that many port properties have been exempted from the fees, but a challenge is permitted.

“We can pay the fee under protest,” explained Senior Vice President & General Counsel Erik Eriksson. “If we don’t pay the fee now and then file a protest without paying the fee I think additional charges might incur.”

The port commission decided to discuss the issue in executive session, and afterward voted to “approve the periodic payment of assessed City of Houston drainage fees, in the current annual amount of $230,343, for certain Port Authority properties located within the City of Houston,” said Eriksson, adding that the action included an amendment subject to the terms discussed in executive session. "The direction of the port commission is to protest PTRA rail properties."

The commission voted 4-0-3, with Chair Jim Edmonds and commissioners Elyse Lanier and Kase Lawal abstaining, to enter into an annual $75,000 subscription services agreement with the Greater Houston Partnership World Trade Division to help PHA secure new beneficial cargo owners.

At the suggestion of Burke, the commission deferred for 30 days an $87,500 subscription services agreement with the Greater Houston Partnership Economic Development Division to help secure new distribution centers in the region.  Lanier said she had intended to vote against the item.
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A representative of the Greater Houston Partnership will appear before the commission at the December meeting.

At the request of Lanier, the commission deferred action on a proposal to fund the port’s “irrevocable trust established for other port employee benefits (OPEB) liabilities” in an aggregate amount not to exceed $8 million for this calendar year.

All other agenda items were approved with unanimous votes, except that Lanier abstained on a $40,000 service agreement with the Galveston Bay Foundation to promote the development and enhancement of the port’s facilities; and Lanier and Janiece Longoria abstained on issuance of a marine construction permit to Shell Oil Company to demolish an existing wooden tug boat dock structure and to construct a new tug boat structure at its facility in Deer Park.

Chief Executive Officer Alec Dreyer reported to the board on selected financial results and operational issues. Listen: MP3 RealPlayer  News Release

“In October our operational results evidence a slowing down of the nation’s economy,” Dreyer said.  “Our leading economic indicator, our container activity, would normally be rather robust this time of the year due to the upcoming holiday season.  Instead, container volumes were slightly lower in October.”

However, Dreyer said steel tonnage for October was up 49 percent over last year and is up 60 percent in the first 10 months of this year.

Members of the commission updated the others on their task force assignments.  Edmonds reported on the Pension Task Force, Lanier reported on the Small Business Development & Community Relations Task Force, Lawal reported on the Procurement Task Force and Steve Phelps reported on the Governance Task Force. Listen: MP3 RealPlayer

Representatives of several organizations that receive financial support from the port appeared before the commission, including Bob Mitchell, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership; Chad Burke, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region; Bob Stokes, president of the Galveston Bay Foundation; Bill Diehl, president of the Greater Houston Port Bureau and Eric Lyons, president and CEO of the Houston Citizen Chamber of Commerce.
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