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State of Texas
Texas House Select Committee on Texas Ports, Innovation & Infrastructure
by Garrett Bryce
Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Texas House Select Committee on Texas Ports, Innovation and Infrastructure on Wednesday met to hold a public hearing regarding several proposed bills related to the committee, including legislation to the financing of port projects such as channel widening, and three bills related to the state's cruise industry.

Texas State Representative Joe Deshotel, chair of the board, opened the meeting, and brought forward HB 2460, legislation he introduced to allow the Port of Beaumont's Board of Commissioners to set compensation for commissioners. Current statutes place the compensation at $500 per month for each commissioner.

Deshotel also opened a hearing regarding HB 2936, which he also authored. The legislation would place authority of the Port Arthur Navigation District to levy taxes without requiring approval of the Jefferson County Commissioners Court.

Witnesses registered in support of the bills, but did not offer testimony.

The committee then received and heard testimony regarding HB 4021, which would provide for the creation of the Ship Channel Improvement Revolving Fund in the general fund, which would provide loans for funding ship channel improvements. The bill also defines port access improvement projects for public roadway improvements to enhance port connectivity, which would be provided for through the Texas Mobility Fund. A committee substitute was provided.

The committee heard from three speakers regarding the bill. Listen (18:20)

Keith Strama, with the Sabine Neches Navigation was the first provided testimony on the bill.

Strama noted that the district needed funds to utilize as a local match in support of federal funds for projects, including the deepening and widening of the channel to handle new, larger Panamax container vessels.

Mike Wilson, Director of Economic Development with Port Freeport also spoke in support of the bill.

“In our county we have approximately $26 billion in new projects by people like DOW, Phillips 66, BASF, Freeport LNG and others, and about $18.5 billion of those projects are along our channel,” Wilson said.

Wilson said, that like Sabine Neches, Port Freeport has been authorized for a project to dredge its channel to the 55-foot depth to accommodate large ships now transiting the Panama Canal, but requires local match funding.

“We jumped, last year, with passages through the Panama Canal, from 6 to 62 this year alone,” Wilson said. “So it's very important for us to have a deeper wider channel.”

Port Freeport CEO and Executive Director Phyllis Saathoff, who spoke on behalf of the Texas Ports Association, also supported the bill.

“Enhancing the competitiveness of Texas ports is beneficial for the economic health of our state,” Saathoff said, noting that Texas ports moved 563 million tons of cargo in 2016.

Albert Shannon, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Galveston Wharves at the Port of Galveston, also spoke in favor.

Shannon noted Galveston's status as an enterprise port, with no tax funding support.

“A means of getting financing, a revolving fund makes a lot of sense to us,” Shannon said.

The committee also heard testimony on three bills, HB 3636, HB 3650 and HCR 78, related to the state's cruise industry. Of the three bills, submitted by State Representative Todd Hunter, two relate to promoting the cruise industry in Texas.

Hunter attended the meeting, and address the committee regarding the bills.

“My goal and role is the promote the cruise ship industry in Texas, overall,” Hunter said. “It's not limited to just one area.”

Shannon also spoke on the bills, noting Galveston's own status as a successful cruise port.

“Galveston is Texas' cruise port, we're the number four cruise business in the United States, and number seven in the world,” Shannon said. “We didn't get that overnight. In fact, it's taken 20 years to create that business and grow that business.” Listen (26:28)

All bills were left pending in the committee. The committee is meeting today to receive further testimony and for a workshop.

To view a video of the entire meeting, Click Here

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