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Jim Guidry Commentaries
Preparing for the Expanded Panama Canal
by Jim Guidry
Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Guidry News Service covers several ports on the Gulf Coast, primarily in Texas; but we also follow activities of ports in Louisiana and Florida.  A major topic of discussion by the maritime community on our beat is the expansion of the Panama Canal.

There has been some concern that ports along the East Coast would provide stiff competition for the larger vessels that will be able to traverse the deeper and wider canal when it opens in 2014.  However, recent reports indicate that the Gulf Coast may be in better position than we thought.

“You guys read in the news about Savannah and Charleston fighting with each other; and the governor of South Carolina won’t approve the dredging for Georgia,” said Curtis Spencer, president of IMS Worldwide, Inc., who was the keynote speaker at the recent Harris County International Trade & Transportation Conference which was covered by Guidry News Service.  “It’s nuts!  We don’t have that here.  That’s a good thing.” Article

The West Gulf Maritime Association, which advocates for the maritime industry in our region, tracks maritime issues in the news, including a recent report in Bluffton Today, confirming Spencer’s opinion.  Article

“The administrator of the Panama Canal chastised U.S. and Canadian officials Tuesday for not preparing their ports to take advantage of the expansion his country is undertaking,” said the article, quoting Alberto Aleman Zubieta in his remarks to East Coast port officials. “You must realize that you are in a globalized economy. If you do not do it, someone else will. If you don’t capture those markets, someone else will.”

An article in the Houston Chronicle by Kiah Collier stressed that foreign ports also are preparing for the Panama Canal expansion.  Article

"Indeed, we are dredging our container terminals so that - like many other ports - we will be able to receive mega-vessels," said Donald Tong, Hong Kong's commissioner for economic and trade affairs, in the Chronicle article.

Despite recent controversies at some of the ports on our beat, it is refreshing to see evidence that this region is engaged in planning and cooperation, and is not overly concerned that a neighboring port might benefit.  The Port of Houston is making major improvements to its Barbours Cut Container Terminal and is discussing the possible joint development of a container terminal on Pelican Island with the Port of Galveston.  These two ports have previously engaged in fierce competition over the years.

Not to overdo the evidence of East Coast problems, I will call attention to a Bloomberg article on The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Article

The article quotes an auditor’s report which describes the port authority as “a challenged and dysfunctional organization suffering from a lack of consistent leadership, a siloed underlying bureaucracy, poorly coordinated capital planning process, insufficient cost controls and a lack of transparent and effective oversight of the World Trade Center program that has obscured full awareness of billions of dollars in exposure to the port authority.”

Wow!  That report makes criticisms by Wayne Dolcifino in Houston or Ted and Charlotte O’Rourke in Galveston seem mild by comparison.

And with the appointment of competent administrators as interim directors of the ports of Houston and Galveston - Len Waterworth and Michael Mierzwa respectively - it looks as if this region is continuing to position itself well for the new business through the expanded Panama Canal.

Remembering Jim Guidry Lest We Forget

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