The Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority convened on Tuesday in an in-person public meeting for the first time since the pandemic’s start. The Emergency Suspension of the Open Meetings Act requirements ended, and in accordance, a quorum of the Commission was physically present.
Chairman Campo observed that they had masks and were properly spaced and being thoughtful of best Covid-19 protocols. He said that the hybrid public meetings will likely continue as providing remote access of the meetings to the public is a “helpful option.”
Chairman Campo expressed appreciation to Port staff and users of the channel, including the International Longshoremen Association (ILA), Seafarers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Coast Guard, among many for “continuing to drive economic activity, impact and creating jobs for our region.” He said in part that “an amazing amount of work is getting done by an amazing team doing a great job despite the pandemic and issues along the supply chain.”
In his staff report, Executive Director Roger Guenther highlighted the historic record-breaking month of the highest cargo volume ever for the public container terminals. He added that there has also been a dramatic increase in import steel, and other general cargo commodities handled through the Multipurpose facilities.
Guenther said the Port is seeing an extended peak holiday season for containerized cargo and the elevated levels occurring in the supply chain are expected to continue well into 2022. The unprecedented surge in import volumes has created significant challenges across the nation and Houston is not immune to current disruptions in the global supply chain. However, Port Houston remains closely engaged with customers, ocean carriers, stevedores, labor, truckers, and all other industry partners to seek solutions to maximize the opportunities to keep freight moving efficiently.
In consideration of the heightened interest in the Houston Ship Channel expansion program, Project 11, Guenther highlighted the environmental initiatives of the public terminals. Earlier this month, Port Houston received the draft report for the Goods Movement Emissions Inventory (GMEI), which updates emissions data from 2013 to 2019. The updated GMEI draft shows improvements in nearly every category.
Even with the 53% twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) throughput increase and 8% increase in cargo tonnage during this period, the public terminals emissions were lowered by between 15% and 93% for all evaluated pollutants across the board in 2019 compared to 2013. Additionally, Mr. Guenther noted receiving 9 new hybrid-electric rubber-tired gantries (RTG) cranes bringing the total to 31 RTG’s, growing this yard crane equipment from zero to 26% of the total fleet over recent years. The hybrid-electric RTGs reduce emissions by up to 70 to 90% over older diesel models.
Port Houston continues to explore opportunities, including accelerating an already aggressive capital investment strategy for the public terminals to stay in front of the demand. A highlight of items passed and authorized by the Commission included the award of a construction contract to complete rail spur construction at the Bayport terminal. Also, the Commission approved an order for more than $800,000 to purchase replacement data storage and increased redundancy equipment.
Chairman Campo also applauded Port Houston’s Information Technology (IT) Department for successfully “stopping a security breach before it happened.” During the meeting in public comments, U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port Jason E. Smith presented a Certificate of Merit to Director, Information Security Officer Chris Wolski for his actions, diligence, expertise and contributions concerning protecting Port Houston and the Houston Ship Channel overall on matters related to cybersecurity.
Guenther also formally introduced the new Chief Business Equity Officer, Maxine Buckles, to the Commission. Buckles will lead the Small/Minority and Women-owned Business Equity program and internal Diversity, Equity, Inclusion initiatives and report directly to the Executive Director.