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Volume 4, Issue 2                                    University of Houston

Bayport area residents have opportunity 
to air grievances

By Tim Williams
Breaking News Staff

As part of the ebb and flow of the Gulf of Mexico, Galveston Bay is known for its nearly year-round mild temperatures.

But, if a public meeting held Dec. 12 is any indication, the proverbial waters surrounding the Port of Houston's proposed Bayport terminal are practically boiling over as port officials, shipping companies and labor unions pit themselves against Clear Lake-area residents.

The meeting, held at the George R. Brown Convention Center, was attended by an estimated 4,000 residents, longshoremen and an assortment of politicians.

The intended purpose was to afford the Galveston District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers an opportunity to hear project proponents' and opponents' arguments concerning the southeast Harris County cargo container terminal's construction.

The Corps is responsible for considering the Port's application for construction and issuing the project's construction permits.

As part of the permit process, the Corps commissioned an impact study in 1998 that considered the consequences of Bayport's construction and operation on the area's air, water and residents.

The subsequent 1,700-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement was released Nov. 12 for a 90-day public review and comment period.

"While the environmental impact statement process is separate from the public interest review process, they are both integral in making my decision," said Col. Leonard Waterworth, district engineer for the U.S Army Corps of Engineers-Galveston District.

"The Corps is neither a proponent nor an opponent of this project," Waterworth said. "Ultimately, we are the decision-makers who have to decide if this project is contrary to the public's best interest."

The Bayport containerized cargo and cruise terminal site is contained within the City of Seabrook, and the extra-territorial jurisdiction of the City of Pasadena and Harris County.

If constructed, the terminal could contain a maximum of 12 berths, seven for container ships and five for cruise ships. The proposed full 720-acre complex would be built in phases over the next 15 to 20 years.

Division over the project pits residents worried about property values, air quality and traffic congestion against developers and construction and longshoremen unions that want additional jobs and a regionally competitive port.

"There is one basic thing for everyone to understand about the Bayport container and cruise terminal," Port of Houston Authority Commission Chairman James Edmonds said. "If we do not build Bayport, the ships will not come."

The crowd, which appeared to overwhelmingly oppose Bayport, cheered Edmonds' warning.

Addressing why the terminal's construction is important, Edmonds said, "Touch the shirt you have on right now. It came to Houston in a container. Look at your shoes. Loads of them came in a container."

"Over the past decade, shippers have switched to containers because they are the safest, most economical and convenient way to ship goods," he said.

Area residents' concerns about light-pollution, visual and noise impacts have been addressed with new standards including a proposed three mile-long, 20 foot-high earthen berm (or bank), he said.

"We have been a good neighbor and will continue to be," Edmonds said in an effort to assuage opponents' concerns. "The Port is committed to set standards for environmental responsibility."

This comment drew a minute of intense negative reaction from opponents that echoed throughout the center's first-floor main hall, causing Waterworth to admonish them to be respectful of both sides.

Speakers on both sides were drowned out by boos and jeers several times during the approximately four-hour public comment period.

"We are not against creating jobs," Taylor Lake Village Mayor Natalie O'Neal said. "(Bayport) is just the wrong location."

She said other bay locations, Shoal Point or Pelican Island, would be adequate for construction, and would impact far fewer residents.

El Lago Mayor Pro-Tem Natalie Ong voiced one resident's concern that once shipping commences (adding approximately 7,000 truck trips per day on local roadways like State Highway 146) hurricane/emergency evacuation routes will be clogged.

Ong also lamented that fellow Asian-Americans in the seafood industry will be disproportionately affected.

Speaking directly to the stage where Corps members were seated, Ong said, "Please do your job so we don't have to resort to the courts."

The public has until Feb. 12 to submit written comments to the Corps unless a proposed 90-day extension is approved.

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