One places restrictions on large ships; another changes composition of pilot board for Houston ship channel.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday signed bills affecting traffic moving to and from the Port of Houston that had been promoted by companies in the oil and gas industry but had raised concerns among businesses in the container industry.
Houston is a fast-growing container port, and energy companies have been concerned that large containerships could result in one-way traffic along the Houston ship channel, hampering tanker traffic.
Abbott signed the legislation even though the Port of Houston Authority commissioners and Houston Pilots had taken steps to try and address the concerns of the energy industry earlier this year.
Port Houston Executive Director Roger Guenther said, “We are steadfast in our position that keeping the channel open for all vessel traffic is in the best interests of our state and nation. Moreover, we remain focused on the critical objective of obtaining the federal authorization for construction to widen the Houston Ship Channel for the greater good of safety, for the flow of commerce, jobs and economic prosperity of our state and nation.”
Earlier this year the commissioners adopted a rule that effectively limited the number of large containerships calling its terminals that would cause one-way traffic restrictions to one per week. Furthermore, those ships would be prevented from arriving and departing the port’s container terminals on the same day.
And in May, the pilots took action to ease one-way restrictions in the channel by permitting containerships with lengths of less than or equal to 1,110 feet and beams of less than or equal to 150 feet to meet other vessels sized less than or equal to 601 feet in length and 106 feet in beam and less than 35 feet in draft.
The first bill signed by Abbott, SB 2223, says the Board of Pilot Commissioners for Harris County ports, which includes Houston, shall “adopt rules and issue orders to pilots or vessels when necessary to secure efficient pilot services, including minimizing the interference of two-way routes,” and generally restricts the length of ships calling the port to 1,100 feet unless the board determines longer ships can be piloted while maintaining two-way traffic. Operating larger ships would require approval by 80% of the Houston shipping channel pilots and two public hearings.
The bill was opposed by Port of Houston commissioners, who feared it could “hinder the future commerce through the Houston Ship Channel.”
The International Longshoremen’s Association and the United States Maritime Alliance, which represents the shipping companies and terminals that employ ILA members, also had opposed the legislation, saying it could “crush” economic growth.
Another bill, S.B. 1915 will change the composition of the Board of Pilot Commissioners for Harris County ports.
Currently members of the Port of Houston Authority also serve as the pilot board commissioners. In the future they will be barred from serving on the pilot board. The governor also will be able to appoint two of the nine commissioners.
The laws take effect Sept. 1.