Tis the season to count our blessings, reflect on the year and look forward to the new year. Before writing today’s column, I made a list of 2021 port accomplishments and the many things for which I’m grateful. I would like to share with you just some of the things on my list.
1. OUR BOARD AND STAFF: The Galveston Wharves has had a phenomenal year thanks to the vision, dedication and hard work of its board and staff. Since joining the port in 2018, I’ve served a board of civic leaders who set a long-term vision with the port’s first master plan as a roadmap for growth. They have guided this port through the challenges of COVID and supported the staff in their efforts to bring this self-sustaining city asset to its full potential.
2. RETURN OF CRUISING: After a 1 ½-year suspension, the cruise business began operating safely and sustainably this year. This is great news for the port because our cruise business typically generates about 65 percent of our annual revenue. We use net revenues to fund critically needed maintenance and capital improvement projects prioritized in our master plan. It is also great news for cruise fans and the thousands of people working in cruise-related jobs.
3. THIRD CRUISE TERMINAL: In August we broke ground on the port’s third cruise terminal, a $125 million, 161,000-square-foot building with 1,800 parking spaces. Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas will begin sailing from the new terminal at Pier 10 when it opens in fall 2022.
4. A STRONG YEAR FOR CARGO: We expect to end the year with total cargo of 5 million tons, the highest since 2016. We saw growth in almost all types of cargo, including bulk liquids, bulk fertilizer, wind and general cargo, roll-on/roll-off cargos, and new cars. More cargo tonnage means more jobs for union workers, ship pilots, stevedores, truck drivers and others who move these cargos. Improvements to our West Port Cargo Complex and a new, privately operated cargo laydown yard also contributed to our growth.
5. FEDERAL DREDGING: For the first time in a decade, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is dredging the federal portion of the Galveston Ship Channel to its maximum permitted depth of 47 feet. When completed next year, we will be able to bring in larger grain ships, which should boost our cargo numbers.
6. GREEN MARINE: In June we became only the second Texas port to be certified by Green Marine, a voluntary environmental program for North America’s maritime industry. Guided by this program, the port staff is researching, planning and implementing several environmental programs. From improving air quality to reducing waste, Galveston Wharves is identifying impactful ways to make long-term changes to improve the environment.
7. INFRASTRUCTURE: In 2021, our Engineering Department has had a full plate managing several maintenance projects, along with major capital improvement projects, including the port’s portion of Pier 10 improvements, new interior roadways, and the West Port Cargo Complex.
8. PORT POLICE ACHIEVE GOLD STANDARD: The port police department earned state accreditation in a voluntary operational standards program established by the Texas Police Chiefs Association. Our police department is one of only 181 police agencies in Texas to achieve certification.
In looking back at what we have accomplished, I’m extremely proud of the port staff and grateful for the continued support of our board, City Council and community. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Rodger Rees is Galveston Wharves port director and CEO.