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In win for energy industry, port limits large container ships in channel

Thursday, 11 April 2019 | 00:00

Commissioners for the Port of Houston Authority agreed Monday to limit the number of vessels measuring 1,100 feet or longer that can enter the Houston Ship Channel, a request pushed by energy companies fearing that especially large container ships will cause waterway traffic jams.

The adopted resolution will allow just one of these ships each week, where they will be restricted to one movement each day. That means a large container ship entering the channel one day could not leave until the next day.

This topic has been a point of contention for months. Houston Pilots, charged with guiding vessels in and out of the Houston Ship Channel, have enacted safety measures that only allow moving these vessels during the day. And the ship channel’s typical two-way traffic is reduced to just one-way traffic when moving the larger container ships.

This prompted a group of energy companies to form the Coalition for a Fair and Open Port. It hired an outside firm that found one-way traffic and the growing use of large container ships could suppress the oil and gas industry’s ability to grow at a time when the United States and Texas are poised to become exporting powerhouses.

“To put that channel on one-way traffic is going to choke off our ability to export what wants to be and needs to be exported,” Jim Teague, CEO of Enterprise Products, said in December. Enterprise is a top exporter of crude oil and other petroleum products.

A Port Authority spokeswoman on Tuesday said very few of these especially large vessels are actually calling on Houston right now, and they weren’t expected to surpass one a week in the near future.

Container and trucking companies, however, have pushed back against the coalition, saying it would hurt the entire shipping and logistics supply chain. The West Gulf Maritime Association trade group noted that 1,100-foot-plus vessels make up about 30 percent of the fleets of most major container shipping lines.

Shareen Larmond, president of the maritime association and speaking on behalf of its container members, said the Houston Ship Channel is federally managed and should be open to all industries. A long-term solution being addressed by the Port Authority and supported by all of the involved parties is widening the waterway. In the nearer term, she hopes a continued dialogue will ensure that cargo continues calling on Houston.

“We definitely understand the pressures that led to the decision,” she said on Tuesday, “and look forward to working with the commissioners and commissioner Ric Campo on finding ways to ensure that all commodities and industries are accommodated on the Houston Ship Channel.”

Monday’s news comes just months after Campo, chairman and CEO of Camden Property Trust, was appointed chairman for the Port of Houston Authority. This one-way traffic debate was among his key, early focuses.

The Coalition for a Fair and Open Port praised Campo for getting the resolution passed. But now, it’s looking for something more permanent that can’t be overturned by new commissioners. Vincent Di Cosimo, executive director of the coalition, said it’s difficult for companies to invest hundreds of millions of dollars without knowing for certain that there will be two-way traffic in a few years.

He said the coalition wants to see state legislation that mandates two-way traffic. If pilots aren’t comfortable with a certain vessel in two-way traffic, then that vessel can’t come until the pilots are comfortable with guiding it past other vessels.

“It is a great start,” Di Cosimo said. “It’s not the finish line.”
Source: Chron

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