Captain’s Corner- Promoting the Port

CAPT Diehl and Geoff Antell, Assistant to the Speaker for Policy & Counsel, Office of Speaker Paul Ryan.

One part of my job I truly enjoy is interacting with such a wide variety of people and companies on a broad range of topics. From industry partners to elected officials to the general Houston-area community, I am finding that more people are becoming interested in how the port works and how to make it work even better. No matter what group I meet with or what topic we cover, the interconnectedness of the port region is always a discussion item. With this in mind, I recently set out on two 3-day trips: first to Washington, D.C. for advocacy and second to Boston for a resiliency conference.

The first trip to D.C. was with the team from the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region. While the group had several advocacy points, myself and the other port representatives focused on educating our elected and civilian leaders about how valuable our ports are to the nation. We explained that there are over 270 facilities and manufacturing plants clustered in the Houston port region, and the port is a key transportation infrastructure for them to get their products to global markets. Like domestic highways and bridges, port infrastructure needs to be expanded to meet the demands of its users and then maintained to provide companies predictably.

We stressed that private companies needed to have access to federal dredged material placement areas, just like the federal projects do. We encouraged broad use of the WRDA 217 agreements, which saved one terminal $1 million per year in dredged material placement area fees over the Army Corps’ market rates. And, that it was vital that the Houston Ship Channel remain a two-way vessel traffic system for safety and efficiency.

Maintenance also dovetails into resiliency. We informed these leaders that eight months after Hurricane Harvey parts of the channel are still draft restricted by over four feet. Since the Houston Ship Channel is habitually underfunded (despite contributing tens of millions of dollars per year more to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund than is needed to maintain the channel), the Army Corps has been unable to perform advanced maintenance dredging. Think of it like getting a haircut – you usually get it cut a little bit shorter than you actually need to so that you can push off the next appointment a few weeks. If the Army Corps had the resources it needed to perform advanced maintenance dredging, then our channel would have been less impacted by the floods, and therefore, quicker to recover.

Unfortunately, our meetings were cut short by a day when a blizzard blew through overnight and shut down all of the roads. In a testament to the D.C. area’s resiliency, though, the roads and airports reopened that afternoon, and I was able to get back to the balmy 70s in Houston.

The next week I was in Boston for the Global Resilience Research Network Summit, hosted by the Global Resilience Institute of Northeastern University. Industry, elected, public, and academic leaders from around the world gathered to talk about what is resiliency and to emphasize its importance. Our own Harris County Judge Ed Emmett was the one of the keynote speakers, and he did an outstanding job of representing Houston. The talks on how communities prepared for and recovered from catastrophes were fascinating. The topics included using social media as a tool, adaptive engineering, putting a price on something that has never happened, and incentivizing resiliency. Working groups discussed ways to “bounce forward” and “bake resiliency” into everything we do. In other words, instead of looking to just rebuild after a disaster, think about rebuilding to progress beyond where you were to mitigate the impacts of the next event.

Both of these trips – despite the different participants and the different themes – demonstrated to me that industry in the Houston region is looking forward, working today to stay competitive and safe for decades to come.

CAPT Bill Diehl, USCG (Ret.), P.E.
GHPB President


  • Date April 25, 2018
  • Tags 2018 April