By Rodger Rees, Galveston Wharves port director and CEO
As a self-sustaining city entity with no property tax revenues, the Galveston Wharves relies on two main funding streams – business revenues and grants – to pay for operations, maintenance and capital improvements. We are working hard to increase business revenues and go after more grants to fund improvements detailed in our 20-Year Strategic Master Plan.
Those efforts are reaping great rewards. Thanks to the guidance of our board and the focus of our hard-working staff, the port has remained in a positive cash position despite Covid impacts on our cruise and cargo businesses. We also have been aggressively pursuing grants. I’m happy to say that those efforts are paying off.
In 2021, the port was awarded $21.8 million in federal, state and private grants. Grants typically fund 60-90 percent of a project’s cost with the balance coming from the port. These grants are helping to fund a range of projects, from the new Pelican Island bridge and interior port roadway improvements to safety, security and environmental projects.
This year the federal funding pipeline is full of money to be allocated for critical projects, and we’re making every effort to bring some of this money home to Galveston.
For example, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress in late 2021 includes billions of dollars for ports. Port-specific programs totaling $5.225 billion include the $2.25 billion Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP). The act also includes $27.1 billion in port-eligible programs for infrastructure and other improvements over the next five years.
Supply chain relief, air quality and infrastructure improvements for economic growth are broad objectives for this federal funding cycle. These strongly align with the port’s strategic master plan and Green Marine objectives.
Federal funding awarded earlier this year for major dredging work in the Galveston Ship Channel will help move more cargo and boost the economy. The port and other businesses on the ship channel will see immediate benefits of dredging work to take the channel to fully authorized depths for the first time in years.
In April, the Corps allocated $11 million to deepen the western end of the channel, allowing deeper-draft vessels to call on privately operated terminals. Funding also includes $25 million for maintenance. This is the largest amount of federal maintenance funding ever allocated for the Galveston Ship Channel. In addition to federally funded maintenance, the Galveston Wharves spends more than $1 million annually to maintain depths along is berths.
This channel extension and maintenance project will increase cargo activity, strengthen the port’s competitiveness, create more and better jobs, improve operational safety, and reduce emissions. The deepened channel will be able to accommodate larger vessels, which is important as ships continue to increase in size.
Another major focus of our grant activity is bringing the West Port Cargo Complex to its full potential. We’re seeking $32 million in funding to increase the cargo area to almost 90 acres, improve infrastructure and position the port to further diversify its business.
We’re also honored to have received a $5,000 grant from Clean Galveston to landscape portions of the new Royal Caribbean Cruise Terminal with environmentally friendly native plants.
Through the teamwork of port staff, support of our regional partners, and buy-in from our elected officials, we hope to win millions of dollars this year. This is the boost our self-sustaining port needs to move forward with critical capital improvement and maintenance projects that support our mission: To benefit the Galveston community with jobs, tax revenues and economic growth.