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Board of Trustees of the Galveston Wharves
by Jim Guidry
Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Board of Trustees of the Galveston Wharves today voted unanimously to approve a $24.4 million budget for 2012, which includes a three percent across the board pay increase for the port’s 91 full time employees and 11 part time employees. Listen: MP3 RealPlayer

The budget includes revenue estimates in excess of expenditures by $1,076,000.  However, there was some contentious discussion about a $52,000 item for employee retention, which will be discussed additionally at the next meeting of the wharves board.  Trustee Benny Holland thinks the wharves board should review any large expenditures for employee retention by Port Director Steve Cernak.

During Cernak’s report to the board there was considerable discussion of the heavy fog that is impacting ports on the Texas Gulf Coast today. Listen: MP3 RealPlayer

Holland said the port staff should be working with the Galveston-Texas City Pilots to resolve problems with bringing cruise ships into the port during fog events.

“This is a big deal for Carnival,” said Deputy Port Director Michael Mierzwa, explaining that port staff and Carnival officials have been working with the pilots to resolve the problem. 

“This is a big deal for all of us,” replied Holland.

Later in the day, just before the meeting was adjourned, Cernak said he noted that the fog had lifted and he checked on the status of the incoming Carnival cruise ship.
MP3 RealPlayer

“I got a phone call from Carnival and the fact remains that the pilots have not boarded the ship,” Cernak said.  “They had not even gone out there yet. So we do have some problems and it’s going to take some work with the pilots.  Carnival is not quite that happy right now.”

Representatives of the Gal-Tex Pilots will be invited to the next wharves board meeting to discuss the situation.

During the regular meeting, the wharves board approved an amendment to the lease with Galveston Railroad, L.P., at a cost not to exceed $1.4 million, to build rail track between ADM Export Grain Elevator and Piers 30-33 for the purpose of handling wind energy import cargo.

The wharves  board agreed to postpone action on a proposed engagement letter for government affairs related services between the board and Darrick W. Eugene & Associates at a monthly cost of $7,000 plus expenses.

The wharves board agreed to defer until a special meeting, discussion of option and lease agreements with Texas, Mexico & Pacific Railroad, LLC for the port’s 185 acres on the northeast corner of Pelican Island for the purpose of constructing a rail-served bulk cargo terminal.

A proposed agreement between the port and 2418 Strand Corp., L.L.C, Mitchell Historic Properties and MBP Corp. for the purchase of the property at the northeast corner of 25th Street and The Strand was withdrawn from the agenda and will be considered at a later meeting.

David Stanowski, president of the Galveston Open Government Project, addressed the wharves board. Text

“The City of Galveston was founded for only one reason; it was the site of a natural port. The founding fathers did not come here to open T-shirt shops, restaurants, art galleries and hotels, or to build grand mansions on Broadway or beach houses on the West End; they came here to buy and sell cargo sailing in and out on ships,” Stanowski said.  Listen: MP3   RealPlayer

Stanowski compared Galveston Island with Venice, Italy, which once had a thriving port and now depends on tourism for its economic engine.

“With the fate of the City riding on the rebuilding of the Port, I was very concerned to read that the Port director is looking for a new job,” he said. “In fact, according to comments following this recent article, this may be the third time in recent years that he has been looking for another job. Since he appears to believe that there are better opportunities somewhere else, how can he possibly be devoting his full attention and effort to rebuilding the Port of Galveston?”

Several members of the wharves board were upset to learn that Port Director Steve Cernak is a finalist for the position of port director in Fort Lauderdale, Florida by reading it in the newspaper. Listen: MP3 RealPlayer

“Mr. Cernak told me after he applied and when he was one of the two finalists,” said Wharves Board Chair Roland Bassett.

“Don’t you think the rest of us on the board should have known that?” Holland asked. “I know you’re the chairman, but each one of us have a vote.”

Bassett took the blame for not notifying the rest of the board.

“Whether I did right or not, it’s done,” Bassett said.  “I’ll be delighted to step aside and let someone else be chairman.”

None of the wharves board members accepted Bassett’s offer to step aside, but John Manlove said he also was not pleased.

“I agree with Benny, I hate to find something like that out in the paper,” Manlove said.

The next regular meeting of the wharves board will be on January 30, 2012, but a special meeting will be scheduled before then.

Remembering Jim Guidry Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership

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