The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has furnished the Port Authority its draft permit for the Bayport Channel Improvement project, Executive Director Roger Guenther reported to the Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority today. The draft permit for Barbours Cut channel dredging will follow soon, he said. The projects at the Port Authority’s two container terminals, which will deepen the channels from 40 feet to 45 feet to match the depth of the Houston Ship Channel, are expected to begin shortly.
Reporting on a recent Audit Committee meeting, Port Commission Chairman Janiece Longoria said the financial statement audit of the Port Authority for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2013, received an unqualified or “clean” audit opinion from external auditors, Grant Thornton LLP, regarding the Authority’s financial records.
“The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report or ‘CAFR’ continues to meet rigorous governmental accounting and financial reporting standards, and for the year ended December 31, 2013, reveals a 7 percent or $68 million improvement in the net position of the Port Authority,” Longoria reported. “This illustrates sound operating and financial management by the staff with oversight of the Audit Committee on behalf of the Harris County taxpayers and surrounding municipalities.”
The Port Commission approved the 2013 Port of Houston Authority CAFR during its regular monthly meeting. In addition, the Port Commission approved sponsorship of a TIGER grant application by the Port Terminal Railroad Association for a rail construction project, including a $11.3 million funding commitment by the Port Authority, contingent on member railroads’ agreement to reimburse PHA and execute a funding commitment letter with the Houston-Galveston Area Council for the project.
The Port Commission also approved entering into a Memorandum of Friendship and Trade Cooperation between the Port of Antwerp Authority, Belgium, and the Port Authority. In his monthly report, Guenther said that the Port Authority’s financial statements continue to show strong results, with March 2014 revenues topping $20 million, supported by growth in container loads and bulk cargos. Year-to-date total tonnage was 8.8 million tons, up by 2 percent, he reported.
“Operating income of $3.5 million for March is ahead of last year by $1.8 million, given our revenue results and controlled spending,” he said. “In fact, for March, our G&A overhead spending is 11 percent lower than the same month last year as we continue to focus on managing our resources.”
For the month, PHA generated roughly $8 million in cash flow, which will support the capital infrastructure needs related to dredging projects and expansion to support customers and partners along the Houston Ship Channel. Guenther also gave recognition to a group whose work is often unseen, the PHA Maintenance staff for Barbours Cut and Bayport container terminals. Staff has again achieved a stellar crane reliability rate (99.35 percent) under the leadership of Paulo Soares. In 2013, the 99-percent crane reliability rate was exceeded.
In her remarks, Longoria noted that she and other Port Commissioners, as well as PHA staff, made a recent advocacy trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with decision-makers in Washington on federal policy priorities. Discussions focused on appropriations for dredging, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, the Water Resources Development Act and
other policy priorities.
Longoria also reported that the Chairman’s Citizens Advisory Council met on April 21 and was provided with updates on Community Relations, Small Business development and maritime education programs. She shared that staff is working on a Community Engagement Strategic Plan. The CCAC was established to ensure an even more open and direct dialogue between the Port Authority and the community. Longoria introduced a group of students and faculty from the Texas Southern University Maritime Transportation Management and Security Program, who were there to gather insight and observe Port Commission proceedings. TSU established its maritime undergraduate degree program in 2009 in partnership with the Port of Houston Authority. Designed to prepare students to meet the future workforce needs of the maritime industry in the region, it plays a critical role in addressing this gap and developing the next generation of maritime leaders.
In appearances, Tom Katrude, Executive Director, Armand Bayou Nature Center, reported on the center’s growth as it celebrates its 40th anniversary during the Houston Ship Channel’s 100th anniversary. He presented an Understanding Wetlands Program plaque to the Port Commission, in recognition of the long-term partnership between the Armand Bayou Nature Center and the Port of Houston Authority. In her remarks, Chairman Longoria acknowledged the meeting was taking place on Earth Day, a time of reflection and renewal which ”reminds us of our responsibility to protect and preserve the earth.”