Port board adds new members (copy)

Jasper “Jay” Cuellar, who represents District 2 on the Calhoun Port Authority board, signs a form after being sworn into office in May. 

POINT COMFORT – The Calhoun Port Authority tried to close an unflattering chapter of its history as well as its books Monday.

Afterward, the board adopted a budget that shows it expects to spend less on lawyers and more on maintenance in fiscal year 2020.

It has budgeted $50,000 for litigation, down from the $427,040.84 it spent in fiscal year 2019 defending itself from the Victoria Advocate, which sued it after claiming the board violated the Texas Open Meetings Act when it hired former Congressman Blake Farenthold as a lobbyist.

The board was cautiously optimistic about this because the 13th Court of Appeals said Friday it would not reconsider dismissing the newspaper’s case against the port.

The court said it dismissed the case because Farenthold’s resignation in January made it moot.

The newspaper can appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, but it’s unclear whether it will. Its attorney, John W. Griffin Jr., could not be reached for comment by deadline Monday.

The port plans to spend $388,000 on extending Farm-to-Market Road 1593 so it loops around the port, making it easier to stage vehicles for incoming shipments without getting in the way of general traffic to the port.

The amount budgeted for litigation and for the roadway is small compared to the port’s total fiscal year 2020 budget. The board projected the port’s total revenue would be about $18 million, its expenses about $16 million and its net revenue about $2 million.

The net revenue is expected to be about $300,000 less than fiscal year 2019. The staff and board said the decrease is occurring because the port expects change orders on contracts it awarded in fiscal year 2019 and because of an increased cost to operate the ammonia and acrylonitrile terminal and storage facility. Ammonia is the feedstock for acrylonitrile, which at least two petrochemical plants in the area, Invista and Ineos, produce. Acrylonitrile is the raw material for the manufacture of plastics.

Board members Jasper “Jay” Cuellar and Johnny J. Perez worked with staff to develop the budget, which the board unanimously approved Monday.

Although some of the port staff received raises to adjust for cost of living and for their performances, Cuellar said he and Perez asked port director Charles Hausmann to provide them with a description of each position to better understand their value to the port. Cuellar said the port was adding someone to the maintenance department and that he wouldn’t support hiring another lobbyist.

Prior to and during Farenthold’s hiring, the port had contracts with firms in Austin and Washington, D.C., to lobby on its behalf part-time.

“Our engineer does a lot of meeting/attending with the Army Corps of Engineers, so in a lot of ways he is acting as a liason,” Cuellar said. “Now, if he retires, we’ll have to figure out how to replace that, but as far as someone going to Capitol Hill and wining and dining and partying, that ain’t happening.”

The port’s fiscal year is July 1 to June 30.

Jessica Priest reports on the environment and Calhoun County for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at jpriest@vicad.com or 361-580-6521.

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Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest has done a little bit of everything since moving to Victoria in 2012. She was a regular fixture in the Crossroads’ historic courthouses, but now slathers on the sunscreen to report on the environment.

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