Port Houston: Channel project on track, box imports soften

Written by Marine Log Staff
Port Houston turning basin

Port Houston's turning basin general cargo terminal

The Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority met on Monday, March 20, and got updates on progress with the Houston Ship Channel deepening project and on the impact of softening container imports.

Chairman Ric Campo reported that the Houston Ship Channel expansion and deepening program, Project 11, is still on time and on budget. However, he said it was anticipated that $180 million in government funding was still needed for the final leg of construction expected for completion in 2025.

Updating the Port Commission in his executive report, executive director Roger Guenther noted: “Overall tonnage is up 7% year-to-date collectively for our public terminals, however, we are now seeing considerable softening of demand, especially in the import of containers.”

“Nevertheless, export volumes remain strong driven by the strength of plastic resins and other petrochemical commodities produced in our region and delivered globally through Port Houston,” Guenther added, “Our export shippers have signaled that 2023 will continue to be a solid year.”

Tempering expectations on container imports, Guenther said that this softening had been anticipated in the annual budget and that, though only two months into the year, the port is tracking to those plans.

“Expectations are that recovery of this volume will begin to bounce back in the last half of 2023,” he said. “We look at this short breather in import demand as an opportunity to take advantage of and utilize this time to reset and continue to aggressively continue with capital improvements to our facilities to meet future demand, with planned investments of $1.8 billion in improvements over the next five years,”

Actions taken by the Port Commission during its meeting included adopting a resolution expressing Port Houston’s intent to finance the remaining portions of its share of Project 11 expenditures with proceeds of tax-exempt, revenue-backed debt obligations.

During the meeting, Guenther noted a visit earlier in March from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Board of Trustees and staff. During the visit and tour of the port and waterway, EDF learned more in-depth about how the port works collaboratively with private industries, the community, and others.

Guenther and other executive leadership said they were encouraged by EDF’s responsiveness to the port’s Environmental, Social, Safety, and Governance Plan (ES2G) and the funding applications it is pursuing. Guenther and the leadership team also said Port Houston is looking forward to continuing cooperative engagement with EDF.

Guenther also announced Charlie Jenkins, senior director of asset management & strategic coordination at the port, has assumed the new role of chief channel infrastructure officer. He will lead the development and maintenance of the Houston Ship Channel and oversee the development and implementation of the Port Houston Strategic Asset Management Program.

Rich Byrnes will continue as chief port infrastructure officer, leading the planning, design, construction, and sustainability of all current and future Port Houston facilities and programs, including the environmental affairs, project & construction management, technical & business analytics, and facility planning departments.

The Port Commission will meet on Tuesday, May 2, for its next regular monthly meeting.

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