POINT COMFORT – The Calhoun Port Authority Board, which has been under scrutiny since hiring a disgraced congressman as a lobbyist in 2018, voted on Wednesday to stop emailing its agendas to the public.
Board Chairman J.C. Melcher Jr. instructed port staff to stop emailing them in August, so Board Members Jasper “Jay” Cuellar and Luis De La Garza asked to discuss and vote on it Wednesday.
“This one caught me off guard,” Cuellar said, “I think the board has been under scrutiny long enough and being crystal clear is a good opportunity.”
Board Member Shields A. “Tony” Holladay Sr. said Cuellar and De La Garza were free to email the agenda to whomever they wished. He said it is posted on the port’s website and at the Calhoun County Courthouse.
“I’m not going to pay Charles (Hausmann, the port director,) and the ladies in the office to send it to a list that long, OK?” Holladay said, gesturing with his hands. “If you’re too lazy to pull it up online, you don’t need to read it anyway.”
De La Garza asked Hausmann how long it took staff to email the agendas. Hausmann said it took about five minutes.
The port isn’t required by law to email the agendas, but open government advocates say that it is best practice and in previous interviews with the Victoria Advocate pointed out that the public may not visit the port’s website or the courthouse frequently enough to be notified of a special meeting. Regular meetings are at 9 a.m. on the second Wednesday of the month.
Holladay, H.C. “Tony” Wehmeyer Jr., and Johnny J. Perez voted in favor of stopping emailing agendas to the public. Cuellar and De La Garza voted against. Melcher has not voted since becoming chairman in May.
He said he would only vote to break a tie.
Afterward, De La Garza said he was “heartbroken” when he read the minutes from the August meeting that showed the board voted to begin negotiating to buy property. They took the vote when De La Garza was in the restroom. This led to a tense exchange between De La Garza and Melcher.
“Mr. Chairman, I would just ask that you look around the room,” De La Garza said.
“Mr. De La Garza, I would suggest to you that if you have to leave the room, that you inform us that you’re leaving the room,” Melcher said.
“And I looked directly at you that day,” De La Garza said.
“But you need to inform me you are intending to leave the room,” Melcher said.
In other business, the board awarded Palacios Marine Industrial a contract to switch the port’s dry bulk dock’s power source from a private company to American Electric Power. Palacios Marine was the lower of two bidders at $345,495.
The board held off on awarding another contract to advertise for more bids.
RLB Contracting Inc. was the only company to submit a bid to dredge the port’s berthing areas. RLB estimated it could get the project done for about $1.6 million in between 30 and 90 days. RLB is owned by Randy L. Boyd, who served as the port’s chairman for many years before being voted out of office in May.
RLB came up again when the board talked with officials from Matagorda Offshore, who notified the board last month they were abandoning a 20-inch natural gas pipeline on the port’s property in Lavaca Bay.
Officials from Matagorda Offshore, which is now known as Genesis Offshore Holding, said they’ve been working with the Army Corps of Engineers to officially abandon the pipeline. They said it was installed 3 feet below the sea floor in 1988 and ends at a fenced in area at Alamo Beach.
They said they do not intend to abandon another natural gas pipeline within 50 feet of this one. That pipeline was struck by RLB in April 2018, causing millions of dollars in damages. They said they’ve put a temporary repair clamp on the pipeline under the direction of the U.S. Coast Guard.
The board was concerned it would be saddling future boards with the expense of removing pipeline the company wants to abandon if that company were to go bankrupt, so it asked for more time to consider it.
The pipelines may also be affected by the deepening and widening the Matagorda Ship Channel.
Currently, the plan the Corps put together to deepen and widen the ship channel calls for dredge material to be laid in the area of the pipelines.
The board also adopted a tax rate of 0.0010 of a cent per $100 valuation and approved leasing 1,152 square feet of the port’s warehouse to a company for $518.40 per month. The company plans to store lithium iron batteries there and the lease term is six months.