Port reveals expansion to rotary

Rendering of the new Port of Beaumont Main Street  Terminal 1

Port of Beaumont Director Chris Fisher addressed the Spindletop Rotary Club at its meeting Tuesday, Oct. 10, at the MCM Eleganté Hotel in Beaumont, sharing plans for capital improvement projects that are aimed at improving commerce efficiency at the port.

Nov. 7, the Port of Beaumont will seek the issuance of $85 million in General Obligation Bonds to fund a portion of three major projects totaling $102.2 million with the remaining costs associated with these projects being funded by a combination of port and grant funds, according to a fact sheet provided by the port.

If approved by voters, the current tax rate will increase by approximately 3.9 cents per $100 valuation, totaling 10.6 cents per $100. If the taxable value of your home is $100,000, taxes would increase by $3.25 per month, according to port estimations.

Polls open for early voting, including on the bond issue, on Monday, Oct. 23, with the General Election slated for Nov. 7. The bond issue is proposition A on the ballot, Fisher said. Polling locations can be found by visiting www.jeffersonelections.com.

“As far as our tax rates, we’ve always tried to be fiscally responsible. We haven’t had a bond election since 1997,” Fisher said. “We have reduced our tax rate some 32 percent, by almost one-third, since the year 2000.

“We try to operate as much as we can off of our own revenues. The last expansion we did in 2006 was all Port of Beaumont revenues. We did receive some federal grants, so we try to do as much of that as we can. But we do have to request public support from time to time because we are in a public port competitive environment.”

The three major improvements the port is asking taxpayers to help fund include a $79 million rebuild of docks which will involve the removal of the collapsed structure of wharfs 3 and 4 and the remainder of wharf 2, which were built in the 1950s on supporting infrastructure dating back to the early 1900s.

The docks will be renamed Main Street Terminal and will support dock loads appropriate for modern operations, with 1200 psf load capacity and will be designed for roll-on/roll-off, important for military cargo, as well as general cargo.

“It’s going to be state-of-the art,” Fisher said. “It will increase our capacity for docking vessels by about 33 percent. It will be designed for multipurpose general cargo berth, pretty much capable of handling cargo of any customer that we have. But we have made sure that it fits our military cargo vessels.” The dock will be able to handle ships over a thousand feet long, Fisher said.

The cost to demolish the collapsed structure of the wharfs alone will be around $8-9 million, Fisher said. The modern dock will be comparable to the port’s current Harbor Island Terminal.

A second $13.2 million project included in the bond issue is aimed at alleviating inner-city vehicular traffic congestion and maximizing current rail throughput that is currently constrained in the Port of Beaumont at the Buford Rail Yard Interchange. Specifically, this project addresses the current rail capacity limitation of single-direction unit train handling at the Port of Beaumont terminal by alleviating “spot on arrival” constraints for rail lines.

“As we absorb all the switching activity that we pulled away from (near) Riverfront Park into the port, these trains are getting longer and longer — 110 to 120 car trains. You have to have mile-long dedicated tracks for the receiving of the trains. … We have one of those inside the port. We need two of them because we’re dealing with three railroads,” Fisher said. “It’s going to give us a lot more flexibility and a lot more growth because rail capacity sometimes is a restriction for port growth. So this will … allow us to grow our … rail business.”

With many of that rail tonnage being military cargo and being loaded and unloaded on and off of ships at the future Main Street Terminal docks the port is looking to rebuild, new 842nd Transportation Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Donald Santillo has a close eye on the port’s improvement plans, which will also help improve national security by increasing efficiency of the movement of military cargo.

“We certainly welcome any capital improvements to the port facilities and its operation that enhances our ability to do our jobs even better,” Santillo told The Examiner.

The third project included on the bond issuance, totaling $10 million, is construction of an overpass from Carroll Street into the south end of the Port of Beaumont, giving entering and exiting truck traffic access to the Port of Beaumont property, as railway cars frequently block the existing crossing at Buford and Carroll Streets. The total project length is about a half-mile.

“This is a by-product of all the rail traffic we’ve absorbed,” Fisher explained. “We need a grade separation so we’re not cutting our port in half and can’t get to one side or the other because of the rail traffic.”

All capital improvement projects will help the port continue to stimulate the area’s economy, Fisher reminds.

“Our whole mission is to create jobs and provide a positive economic impact on our community,” Fisher said. “It’s hard to find somebody who lives in the area who is not touched in some way economically in a positive fashion by activity that goes on in the Sabine-Neches Waterway and we’re just one piece of that, here at the Port of Beaumont. As the port grows, more jobs are created, and there’s more positive economic activity.”

According to a recent study by Martin Associates, the Port of Beaumont is responsible for 12,608 direct, indirect, induced and related jobs, $1.8 billion of economic output, and $565 million of total personal wage and salary income and local consumption expenditures are supported by Port of Beaumont marine activity. More than 100 companies do business with the port and $137.8 million of the $1.8 billion of economic output is direct business revenue received by firms directly dependent on port operations.

“Whether we’re having a bond election or not, we’ve always had a good relationship with business and the community,” Fisher said. “We appreciate the support of both. We always want the community to feel like the Port of Beaumont is well managed for you because it is your port, and we just appreciate the relationship we have in Jefferson County.”

There are actually 12 total projects costing $169.2 million in the capital improvement plan for the port. Other projects that the port will fund through grants and other means and that aren’t included in the bond issuance include improvements to lots for staging cargo, parking lots, Harbor Island sheds, and the grain elevator. Also not included in the bond issuance is the construction of a 1,800-foot-long overpass on the Orange County side for port traffic and a right port access only lane on Old Highway 90 in Rose City that connects to the overpass.

The overpass project is receiving 60 percent funding from a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program grant and 40 percent funding from port revenues while the Old Highway 90 access lane project is being funded 90 percent by a TxDOT grant and 10 percent by the port.

The Examiner spoke to Spindletop Rotary Club President Sherry Waldon Wells following the Rotary Club meeting to get her reaction to Fisher’s update on the port.

“I was very surprised at some of the challenges that they’re having,” Wells said. “I think it’s always good to get these updates on what they’re doing, what they’re trying to build, and what those challenges are.

“I think (the port) is very important to Southeast Texas because we do have so much (cargo) going in and out of there. … We’ve got the grains and the oil and the gas and all of these things going in and out. … I think people may take for granted just how important the Port of Beaumont is.”

 

If approved, the bonds will aid in supporting the 2,720 direct, indirect, and induced jobs created by the Port of Beaumont, with another 9,888 related user jobs also tied to Port operations, according to a 2015 Economic Impact Study by Martin Associates.

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