FEATURED: The Houston Ship Channel will be among the first navigation districts in Texas that stand to benefit from the Texas Ports Prosperity Act, and with it, the Texas economy.
Photograph Courtesy PORT OF HOUSTON
Texas Ports Prosperity Act, sponsored by Rep. Canales and authored by Sen. Alvarado and Sen. Hinojosa, predicted to generate at least $200 billion a year for Texas economy by 2025
The Texas economy is predicted to generate at least $200 billion more a year, beginning in 2025, as the result of the Texas Ports Prosperity Act, established as a result of legislation sponsored by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and authored by Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, which was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday, May 26, 2021.
Legislation is a proposed or enacted law or group of laws.
“Senate Bill 1774, known as the Texas Ports Prosperity Act, will help clear a path for eligible ports to deepen and widen their waterways, and add countless high-paying jobs,” said Alvarado.
As the authors of Senate Bill 1774, Alvarado and Hinojosa were the legislators who filed the bill and guided it through the legislative process.
“Filed” is used to refer to a measure that has been introduced into the legislative process and given a number.
A bill is a type of legislative measure that requires passage by both the House of Representatives and Senate and action by the governor in order to become effective. A bill is the primary means used to create and change the laws of the state.
“Current Texas ports with congressionally-authorized deepening and widening projects include Corpus Christi Ship Channel, Freeport Harbor, The Houston Ship Channel, Sabine Neches Waterway, Southeast Texas, and Southwest Louisiana,” said Hinojosa, whose Senate District 20 includes Corpus Christi.
The Texas Ports Prosperity Act, which went into effect immediately upon Abbott’s signature, allows Texas ports with certain federally-approved projects to sell certain portions of land it currently owns but that are also already committed for other purposes by a lease on a long-term basis, and use that revenue to fund their port expansion.
“Today, several Texas ports are working to depend and widen their respective (ship) channels, but financing these projects with federal funds can take decades,” said Canales, who serves as Chair, House Committee on Transportation. “The Texas Ports Prosperity Act will cut federal government red tape by making available a source of private funds to speed up the badly-needed expansion of Texas ports.”
As a sponsor of Senate Bill 1774, Canales is the legislator who guided the bill through the legislative process after the bill has passed the Senate. The sponsor is a member of the opposite chamber of the one in which the bill was filed.
“Texas ports are vital to our state’s economy. They don’t just benefit their surrounding community – they support Texas agriculture, manufacturing, energy, and retail everywhere,” Canales explained. “The economic value brought by our state’s ports is unquestionable.”
According to the Texas Department of Transportation trade in Texas is a significant contributor to the state’s strong economic position. Texas ports generate nearly $450 billion in total economic value for the state and $7.8 billion in state and local taxes each year, according to a 2019 report by the Texas Ports Association.
Despite the strong position of the maritime industry in Texas, the need for additional funding for port capital improvement projects remains a significant need. The biennial Texas Ports Mission Plan developed by the Port Authority Advisory Committee includes an investment strategy and three major sub-reports.
“The problem is that these ports are federal waterways, and like federal infrastructure across Texas and the U.S., some haven’t been materially upgraded in decades,” Canales said. “Today, several of our ports have congressionally-approved projects, but are lacking federal appropriations (funding) to complete, or in some instances begin construction.”
Texas has 11 deep-draft ports, eight shallow-draft ports, and two recreational ports that are critical to the economic growth of the state and are key components of the state’s transportation system, also according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
A deepwater port is different from regular ports in respect of the depth of water.
A port is usually an area or platform entered into from the sea, by vessels, boats, ships, which also allows for protected staging and anchoring or docking for these ships to load and unload consignments and continue up towards their destination.
However, a deepwater port is usually made up for the usage of very large and heavily loaded ships. The depth of water helps get them access to the deepwater ports. Regular ports are by and large of recreational types where the water is not more than 20 feet deep, whereas deepwater port is compatible with the large heavy loaded ships which may require the water to be 30 feet deep or even more.
In 2018, Texas ports ranked second nationwide for total waterborne tonnage handled– moving nearly 569 million tons of cargo, including 414 million tons of international cargo and 155 million tons of domestic cargo. Texas ports also handled 2.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units and served nearly two million cruise passengers.
Five of the state’s ports are ranked in the top 20 U.S. ports by total tonnage, including:
• Port Houston (second);
• Port of Beaumont (fourth);
• Port of Corpus Christi (fifth);
• Port of Texas City (15th); and
• Port of Port Arthur (17th).
According to a bill analysis of Senate Bill 1774 (Texas Ports Prosperity Act):
• Interested parties have called to allow Texas ports to use private funds received through the conveyance of land to a long-term lessee to expedite federally financed projects to deepen and widen ship channels.
• The Texas Ports Prosperity Act would allow certain navigation districts, to the extent that the district had entered into a surface lease with an original term of at least 20 years, to sell the land, improvements, easements, and any other interests in the real property or part of the property to the surface lease counterparty.
(Navigation districts generally provide for the construction and improvement of waterways in Texas for the purpose of navigation. The creation of navigation districts is authorized in two different articles of the Texas Constitution to serve different purposes.
• The land, improvements, easements, and any other interests in real property could be conveyed (transferred) without complying with certain notice and bidding requirements. The sale would have to be:
•• Approved by the port commission;
•• Executed by the chair of the port commission;
•• Attested by the executive director of the district; and
•• Made for an amount that was not less than the sum of the reasonable market value of the property.
The Texas Ports Prosperity Act applies only to a district that controlled a ship channel or waterway that was the subject of a project that had been authorized or modified by the U.S. Congress in the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 or 2020. Money received from the sale in excess of the sum of the reasonable market value of the property and the amount of rent due for the unexpired term of the lease could be used only for the purposes of such a project.
Canales noted that the Houston Ship Channel complex will be among the first navigation districts in Texas that stand to benefit from the Texas Ports Prosperity Act, and with it, the Texas economy.
“‘Project 11, a federally-approved project to deepen and widen the Houston Ship Channel, will be able to be completed within four years – and Texas can start reaping the economic benefit of $200 billion annually by 2020 – rather than waiting for federal money until 2040 or 2050 – or maybe never,” Canales said Canales. “In short, this bill is key to speeding up the badly needed expansion of Texas ports, and keeping Texas the leader in this global race,” said Canales.
For more than 100 years, Port Houston has owned and operated the public wharves and terminals along the Houston Ship Channel, including the area’s largest breakbulk facility and two of the most efficient and fastest-growing container terminals in the country.
Port Houston is the advocate and a strategic leader for the Channel.
The Houston Ship Channel complex and its more than 200 public and private terminals, collectively known as the Port of Houston, is the nation’s largest port for the waterborne tonnage and an essential economic engine for the Houston region, the state of Texas, and the U.S. The Port of Houston supports the creation of nearly 1.35 million jobs in Texas and 3.2 million jobs nationwide, and economic activity totaling $339 billion in Texas – 20.6 percent of Texas’ total gross domestic product (GDP) – and $801.9 billion in economic impact across the nation.
HISTORY IS MADE AS PROJECT 11 BEGINS CONSTRUCTION
Port Houston on Monday, May 10, 2021, marked National Infrastructure Week by highlighting the groundbreaking for the start of construction work to support widening and deepening the 52-mile Houston Ship Channel.
Known as Project 11, the project’s far-reaching benefits impact the United States and the entire Gulf region and have generated bipartisan praise from officials across the state and nation.
Project 11 will not only affect the Port of Houston region but its impact will also be felt throughout Texas.
“There is no more important piece of infrastructure in Texas and possibly the entire United States than the Port of Houston. The upcoming widening project will bring about more economic development and more jobs,” said Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian García. “However, we must also look at supportive infrastructure surrounding the port and the associated new developments that will keep the Port of Houston as the premier commercial waterway in the world.”
The nearly billion-dollar project will create safer and more efficient navigation for the ships and vessels, calling the more than 200 private and eight public terminals that comprise the Port of Houston.
“Our port serves as the anchor for the Texas region,” Port Houston Chairman Ric Campo said. “Expanding the Houston Ship Channel to accommodate the growth of vessel calls, vessel sizes, and cargo needs for customers and consumers will continue providing over 3.2 million jobs and $802 billion in economic value to the nation.”
Port Houston is the local sponsor of the Houston Ship Channel, providing stewardship of the federal waterway. Executive Director Roger Guenther praised its strong partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
He applauded the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ “continued commitment” to delivering for the Texas Gulf coast “vital engineering solutions to secure our nation, energize our economy, while also reducing disaster risks.”
“As we begin construction of Project 11, we have a glimpse into the future we are building,” Guenther said. “This project will enable vessels to deliver goods to our doorsteps, export USA-made cargo around the world, provide safe passage for thousands of ships, and shape the livelihoods of millions of Americans for generations to come.”
“The Army Corps of Engineers looks forward to continuing to partner with Port Houston to deepen and widen this lifeline for our nation’s exporters and importers. Port Houston is a perfect example of ‘if there’s a will, there’s a way,’” said USACE Galveston District Col. Timothy Vail, who delivered remarks during Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony, underscoring its importance.
“The Port and the Army Corps of Engineers are making sure that this project is delivered in line with the priorities of the American people, which are to get it done fast, so we see immediate returns on the transportation efficiencies it will provide, and to start thinking about what’s next,” he added.
GOV. GREG ABBOTT ANNOUNCES SPECIAL SESSION AGENDA
Governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday, July 7, 2021, issued a proclamation that identifies 11 agenda items for the Special Session that began at 10:00 AM on Thursday, July 8, 2021.
Special sessions are remarkably common, according to the Texas Politics Project. The governor alone can call a special session and set the session’s agenda. No matter the number or difficulty of the issues, a special session may meet at most 30 days.
Governors have called them following seven in 10 regular sessions. Sometimes just one is called. More often, one call has led to another as the Texas government has tried to keep up with the growing demand for policymaking.
“The 87th Legislative Session was a monumental success for the people of Texas, but we have unfinished business to ensure that Texas remains the most exceptional state in America,” said Abbott. “Two of my emergency items, along with other important legislation, did not make it to my desk during the regular session, and we have a responsibility to finish the job on behalf of all Texans. These Special Session priority items put the people of Texas first and will keep the Lone Star State on a path to prosperity. I look forward to working with my partners in the Legislature to pass this legislation as we build a brighter future for all who call Texas home.”
Special Session agenda items will include the following measures, whose intent is described by Abbott, but which did not pass during the 87th Texas Legislature’s 140-day regular session, which was held from Tuesday, January 12, 2021, through Monday, May 31, 2021.
Bail Reform: Legislation reforming the bail system in Texas to protect the public from accused criminals who may be released on bail.
Elections: Legislation strengthening the integrity of elections in Texas.
Border Security: Legislation providing funding to support law-enforcement agencies, counties, and other strategies as part of Texas’ comprehensive border security plan.
Social Media Censorship: Legislation safeguarding the freedom of speech by protecting social-media users from being censored by social media companies based on the user’s expressed viewpoints, including by providing a legal remedy for those wrongfully excluded from a platform.
Article X Funding: Legislation providing appropriations to the Legislature and legislative agencies in Article X of the General Appropriations Act.
Family Violence Prevention: Legislation similar to Senate Bill 1109 from the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, requiring schools to provide appropriate education to middle- and high-school students about dating violence, domestic violence, and child abuse, but that recognizes the right of parents to opt their children out of the instruction.
Youth Sports: Legislation identical to Senate Bill 29 as passed by the Texas Senate in the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, disallowing a student from competing in University Interscholastic League athletic competitions designated for the sex opposite to the student’s sex at birth.
Abortion-Inducting Drugs: Legislation similar to Senate Bill 394 from the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, which prohibits people from providing abortion-inducing drugs by mail or delivery service, strengthens the laws applicable to the reporting of abortions and abortion complications, and ensures that no abortion-inducing drugs are provided unless there is voluntary and informed consent.
13th Check for Retired Teachers: Legislation similar to House Bill 3507 from the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, relating to a “thirteenth check” or one-time supplemental payment of benefits under the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.
Critical Race Theory: Legislation similar to House Bill 3979 concerning critical race theory as originally passed by the Texas Senate in the 87th Legislature, Regular Session.
Appropriations: Legislation providing appropriations from additional available general revenue for the following purposes:
• property-tax relief;
• Enhanced protection for the safety of children in Texas’ foster-care system by attracting and retaining private providers for the system; and
• To better safeguard the state from potential cybersecurity threats.
Lisa Ashley contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).