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By: Jay R Jordan
A local state senator who oversaw an interim legislative committee on Texas ports filed bills he said will help ports move infrastructure projects into the fast lane. State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, chaired the Senate Select Committee on Texas Ports between the 84th and 85th Legislature, which was charged to delve into issues surrounding the state’s coastal and inland ports. The committee’s report, filed in November 2016, outlined issues found in federal funding of port projects and ways it believes Texas can become more competitive in international trade, especially in light of the recent Panama Canal expansion.
The report states ship channel projects in the United States are a federal responsibility but require a non-federal sponsor (such as a navigation district or other state entity) to cover up to half of the cost of the project. Texas currently has five port projects underway, four of which are in a “holding pattern” awaiting the federal government to hold up its end of funding the projects, the report states.
Creighton hopes four bills he filed recently – Senate Bills 28, 1292, 1361 and 1395 – will help the state government step in and provide loans to the navigation districts with projects in limbo. The bills would simply set up the mechanism of how the state would help fund the projects through loans, and a later legislature, presumably the 86th Legislature in 2019, would actually put appropriations into the fund the bills would create.
None of the projects are slated to commence before 2019, the report states.
“With the Panama Canal expansion and those locks and channels open, we have some of the best situated geographical locations in the world,” Creighton said. “But yet we were still finding ourselves being edged out by other states.”
Creighton called this series of bills the second chapter of his charge for helping Texas ports improve. During 2015’s 84th Legislature, he filed a successful bill he said helped the Sabine-Neches Navigation District do business more efficiently while the legislature is out of session.
Specifically, the Sabine-Neches Navigation District was able to start dredging the Sabine-Neches Waterway to accommodate the new bigger ships that can now travel through the Panama Canal. Creighton hopes projects similar to that can begin soon in other Texas ports with the state loans.
“With that effort already accomplished and on its way, we’re taking another step to shine a bright light on what these navigation districts need as they’re expected to pay the non-federal share currently without much state assistance at all,” Creighton said. “While other states have fewer ports and often support their ports with more appropriations than we do, we’re allowing through this Ship Channel Improvement Revolving Fund to help these navigation districts secure loans for these projects that specifically would help them fill the gaps in time where our federal partner either may be absent or slow to help them with the timing required on certain projects to keep a competitive edge.”