Many questions remain unanswered about the Houston Ship Channel expansion project (Project 11) changing hands from Port Houston to the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) after a local community-industry meeting on Thursday, May 5.
The Galena Park/Jacinto City Community-Industry Partnership (GP-JC CIP) was founded to strengthen the relationship and communication between local industry and community. At the meeting, representatives from the Port of Houston, the USACE, and community advocacy organizations including Air Alliance Houston and our partners at the Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC) gathered via Zoom to discuss the impact of the Houston Ship Channel expansion project changing hands for some segments of construction.
The Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC) – a coalition dedicated to advocating for and with port-side communities – had a question for the US Army Corps of Engineers. “are you going to replicate Port [Houston’s] promises,” Air Alliance Houston’s Leticia Gutierrez asked in the chat, “to include emissions reductions in contracts?”
The Port of Houston and its board of Commissioners had worked with HPCC and other community organizations around Project 11, resulting in the Port of Houston agreeing to use Tier III dredging machines in their Segment 1A of Project 11.
Just as local advocates felt that some footing had been gained in environmental and community impact mitigation, USACE claimed they had made no such promises or agreements with local groups or the Port of Houston to continue working with local groups or to include emissions reductions in their contracts.
During the meeting, Port Houston representative Lori Brownwell and a USACE representative Andrew Cook made presentations about the project, including completion timelines, local business contracts and how thankful they were for all of their coworkers who had been so supportive and helped bring the project to fruition.
As their niceties continued, the comment section became more agitated.
“We are not questioning the Army corps skills, rather their willingness to make sure that they do not exacerbate our current air quality issues in the region,” Leticia Gutierrez stated as a representative of the Healthy Port Communities Coalition, Air Alliance Houston and as a member of the East End community which will be affected by Project 11 and its construction. Ms. Gutierrez then followed up with a straight shot: “Are you going to replicate Port [of Houston’s] promises to include emissions reductions in contracts?”
Activism has been largely changed by the Coronavirus-19 pandemic. It’s much easier to hide from an audience when all you have to do is shut off your Zoom camera.
And this moment was no different.
The representatives had to hold their own through the meeting, and they did so by popping open canned responses…
“Community impact is our number one priority, which is why we want to bring jobs to the community.”
“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) have standards for us to maintain and we get fined if we break those standards.”
“I personally was not involved in that meeting, and so I could not tell you the decision-making process for that.”
All of these answers sound great if the world was a vacuum where all rules were followed and the fines imposed by the TCEQ were substantial enough to deter polluters – or if industry saw port-side community members as more than labor. This is not the case.
“Good job in protecting the Port’s assets!” remarked HPCC’s Cleophus Sharp, “However, who is notifying and protecting the health and lives of the nearby community residents?”
These are the questions that community wants and should get answered. This question and many like it were glossed over. What industry doesn’t realize is that when community and advocates are fighting for their lives…. They can’t reasonably give up.
The Healthy Port Communities Coalition will continue to advocate for and with communities to keep residents engaged on Project 11. For the latest on this issue, join our coalition’s mailing list HERE.
If you would like to be added to the GP-JC CIP emailing list, where they send out meeting notifications, send your contact information to [email protected].
If you would like to reach out to the Port of Houston, you can contact Director of Community Relations, Maria Aguirre [email protected].