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Texas Port Transportation Corridors - Critical for Industry Economic Success

By Hector L. Rivero, President & CEO, Texas Chemical Council and the Association of Chemical Industry of Texas.

The need for Texas Port Transportation Corridors is critical for chemical industry economic success. These port corridors will ensure a safe and efficient route for industries near our Texas ports to transport container shipments for export to their customers. Port Transportation Corridors will make Texas more competitive with ports around the world by utilizing special “heavy haul” corridors requiring state permits that allow manufacturers to safely transport full container shipments to nearby ports.

Safe routes would be determined by the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) to ensure that manufacturers have a safe and cost effective means to ship their products to their customers and to help relieve congestion on roadways around our ports. Further, creating port transportation corridors will promote future economic development in port regions across the state.

A recent headline proclaimed that the greater Houston area is “preparing for a plastics and chemicals export boom,” with the Port of Houston evolving as the largest United States port that ships more products overseas than it imports. And it is the region’s chemicals, plastics and fuels industries that have made the region an increasingly bigger player in the global economy.

The U.S. shale economy has led to a manufacturing renaissance for our industry that has attracted significant investment, jobs and tax-base to our state. The U.S. chemical industry has announced nearly $150 Billion in new projects and expansions across the country, and Texas accounts for about 1/3 of that investment. There are 84 announced Texas projects with nearly $50 Billion in new investment.  These new projects will create more than 150,000 new jobs for Texans and generate $1.8 Billion in state tax revenue. 

With more than 80 new projects along the Texas gulf coast, the chemical industry is poised for major manufacturing exports beginning in 2017. Among the major investments are numerous polyethylene (PE) projects. These major polyethylene expansions will result in 10.5 billion pounds of new PE production that will need to be shipped to markets around the globe. Most of the PE expansions have been under construction for several years, and are expected to be operational beginning in 2017. Texas needs to ensure that we have transportation corridors near our Texas ports to accommodate the safe and efficient transport of full container shipments to be competitive with other U.S. ports.

The new polyethylene production will result in over 250,000 new container shipments each year, which translates to 600 truckloads every single day. Port transportation corridors will help ease congestion on roadways near the port and provide improved efficiency for manufacturers to get their product to customers. Additionally, Texas port transportation corridors will let the world know that Texas is open for business and provide an incentive for future investment projects near our Texas ports to capitalize on improved transportation efficiency for exporters.

The Port of Houston is the only major U.S. Port that does not have a transportation corridor for area manufacturers to get fully loaded containers directly to the port. Other Texas ports have heavy haul corridors that are competitive with other major U.S. Ports. However, most of the Texas polyethylene expansion projects are within 75 miles of the Port of Houston. In order for these projects to remain globally competitive, we must have Texas Port Transportation Corridors.

Heavy haul corridors are commonly designated by states to allow for the transport of heavier loads to ports. Transporters are required to have a special permit and can only use designated routes determined by the state to be safe. States can also require special equipment for these permits. For example, larger six axle trailers can provide superior weight distribution on roadways and better braking capability for drivers. Additionally, states can place restrictions on when special permit holders can operate on these corridors and can restrict operation during inclement weather.

Now more than ever, having adequate, reliable and well-maintained transportation infrastructure on our roadways, railways and ports is vital to keep up with our economic growth.  Texas ports are preparing for the expected surge in exports as new plastics and petrochemical plants come online over the next several years. The time is right for Texas port transportation corridors, and the Texas Chemical Council will continue to work with policymakers at all levels of government to remove barriers to economic growth and keep our industry globally competitive.

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Coastal Spine is Needed to Protect our Industry and our Communities

By Hector L. Rivero, President & CEO, Texas Chemical Council and Association of Chemical Industry of Texas.

As we approach hurricane season, we are reminded of the devastation caused by previous storms along the Texas Coast.  In 2008, Hurricane Ike was the third costliest storm event in U.S. history with an estimated $30 billion in damage, but was actually considered a “near miss”. Had Ike made landfall 30 miles to the southwest, the damage would have devastated one of the most populated regions in the country and crippled industry along the Houston Ship Channel that serve as a vital economic artery to the country and the world. 

Hurricanes Ike and Rita prompted state lawmakers, local elected officials and local community leaders to examine a coastal barrier or coastal spine to protect the upper coastal region from storm surge resulting from hurricanes and other major storms.  The Texas Legislature’s Joint Interim Committee to Study a Coastal Barrier System has been working with university researchers to develop a storm surge protection system for the upper Texas coast. 

I was invited to testify at the committee hearing at Texas A&M University at Galveston, and emphasized the importance of a coastal barrier system to protect our industrial assets, but also to protect our employees, their families and the millions of Texans who live in the coastal region.

Our industry facilities are engineered and designed to withstand major storm events prone to the region. But our employees who operate and maintain our facilities, and the millions of Texans who call the coastal region home, need a coastal barrier system to protect their homes and families. Without our employees, our facilities cannot operate.

Texas A&M University at Galveston (TAMUG) has led the research for a coastal barrier system and has proposed a coastal spine to extend the Galveston seawall - which was originally built in the early 1900s - and protect the entirety of Galveston and Chambers Counties.  The barrier system would be covered with sand and native grasses. Large gates would be placed along the navigation channel and would close during major weather events to prevent storm surge form entering Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel.  The technology is modeled after an existing gate system used in the Netherlands which has been successfully used to protect the region from numerous major storms. The Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District (GCCPRD), led by former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels is coordinating a five county initiative to look at all the research and unify support from county officials behind a single plan.

The Army Corps of Engineers has also been conducting a study to develop a proposed plan but indicates that their research will not be completed until 2021 at the earliest.

Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who chairs the Joint Coastal Barrier committee, said the state needs Congressional action to expedite the Corps process and appropriate federal funding to pay for the project. Taylor pointed out that following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the city of New Orleans received $14 billion from the federal government. Texas has not received any federal money following the devastation of Hurricanes Ike and Rita, and our region has a significantly higher population than New Orleans.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and U.S. Rep. Randy Weber (R-Pearland) have recently filed federal legislation to expedite a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study that will determine how best to protect the region from a devastating hurricane. The legislation, dubbed the “Corps’ Obligation to Assist in Safeguarding Texas” or COAST Act, would also streamline congressional authorization for any project that comes from the Corps study.

“Texans along our coast live under the constant threat of weather-related devastation to their homes, their livelihoods, and their communities,” Sen. Cornyn said in a statement. “By reducing inefficiency and eliminating duplication, we can speed up the Army Corps’ process to ultimately help bring families, businesses, and communities along the coast the peace of mind they deserve.”

“We’re heightening awareness, we’re trying to get this ratcheted up as quickly as we can, so that when appropriations do come into play, we can say, ‘Okay, here’s the project we’ve been talking about, here’s why it’s important, and we’re just one step closer to getting funding for it,’” Congressman Weber said.

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, a Democrat whose district includes the Houston Ship Channel, said he would be happy to co-sponsor such legislation. He added that he was sure other members of Congress from the region would support it, as well.

It’s very difficult to build such an ambitious U.S. public works project in anticipation of a natural catastrophe. It took the Great Storm of 1900, which killed thousands of Galveston residents, to get a seawall constructed on the island; New Orleans’ failing levee system was not fixed until after Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people in 2005.  But the responsible thing to do is act now to protect our coastal region from future hurricanes, prevent loss of life, and costly damage to homes and businesses.  The economic losses from one major hurricane will more than pay for the coastal spine.

A dramatic new video, financed by the Bay Area Coastal Protection Alliance (BACPA), notes the massively destructive hurricanes which have hit the upper Texas Gulf Coast since the Great Storm of 1900, a Category 4 storm that killed an estimated 8,000 people in Galveston, the deadliest hurricane disaster in U.S. history. The names of other hurricanes are all too familiar – Carla, 1961; Alicia, 1983; Rita, 2005; Ike, 2008. (The video presentation can be viewed here.)

 “The biggest killer in a hurricane is the surge. Probably three quarters of the total damages in a hurricane is due to storm surge,” said Craig Beskid, executive director of the East Harris County Manufacturers Association (EHCMA).   

A coastal spine would stop the storm surge at the coast and prevent it from devastating our inland waterways and the heavily populated communities throughout the region.

The video also introduced a remarkable interactive tool called the Coast Atlas, developed by the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores at TAMUG, which is now available to anyone with an internet connection. The Coastal Atlas was developed so that coastal stakeholders could understand the impact of storm surge and flooding on property along the coast. Homeowners, businesses and developers can use the atlas to view relevant information about a specific location.

A Coastal Spine is needed to protect our industry and our communities. TCC will continue to work with local communities, legislators and stakeholders to represent our industry’s interest in the development of a coastal barrier system for the Texas Coast.

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