Photo Release -- Federal Court Will Hear Entire Bayport Case

Judge Gilmore makes extraordinary effort; PHA agrees to delay construction until ruling

Houston, Texas, UNITED STATES


HOUSTON, Feb. 27, 2004 (PRIMEZONE) -- In a move that clearly recognizes the importance of the Bayport Container and Cruise Terminal project to the Houston region, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore declined to issue a preliminary injunction as requested by the plaintiffs. Instead, the judge scheduled a fast-track process that will allow for a ruling on the merits of the plaintiffs' claim. The process will begin in April and end on May 4 with a decision by the federal court. The PHA agreed to a standstill on the construction of the Bayport terminal until the ruling is issued.

Photos accompanying this release are available at: http://media.primezone.com/prs/?pkgid=750

The lawsuit was filed in June 2003 by the plaintiffs' attorney Jim Blackburn for the City of Shoreacres, other local municipalities and organizations opposed to PHA's construction of the Bayport terminal. The plaintiffs contend that the Corps' delineation of jurisdictional wetlands was improper, among other allegations. The lawsuit did not name PHA as a defendant; however, PHA filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of the Corps.

"We applaud the extraordinary effort by the federal court," stated Jim Edmonds, PHA chairman. "The plaintiffs' challenge is a weak effort to infringe on the port authority's rights and harm the region's economy and job base. We look forward to presenting solid, factual arguments that support the validity of the Corps' process."

Edmonds added, "The port authority has drawn on expertise developed in other ports around the world to make the Bayport facility environmentally sound. We will continue to review our development plans as new environmental technologies and techniques evolve."

Background

In January 2004, PHA and the Corps signed the federal permit for the Bayport project, marking the critical step in the process to build the $1.2 billion terminal. Phase 1A is designed to include 1,660 feet of the ultimate 7,000 ft. wharf and approximately 65 acres of the ultimate 1,043 acre facility. Pending the outcome of the federal court hearing and the start of construction, the facility's first phase is targeted to be operational in mid- to late 2006. Additional phases are planned to be built incrementally over several years according to market demands.

The Corps' extensive review process for the Bayport project included input from community, industry and maritime groups to meet or exceed the requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act. On December 5, 2003 the Corps released its final record of decision, a concise document that recommended approval of the Bayport project. The ROD also included the district engineer's views on the probable effect of the proposed project on the public interest. In part, the document stated that "...even if the Corps were to conclude that all of the aquatic areas on the site, including all of the wetlands on the site, were subject to CWA (Clean Water Act) jurisdiction, (PHA) has provided ample mitigation to compensate for the loss of all aquatic areas on site that will be filled or otherwise degraded by the project."

Later in December, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved water quality certification for the Bayport project under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. The commission had reviewed the project for consistency with the goals and policies of the Texas Coastal Management Program in accordance with the regulations of the Coastal Coordination Council and determined that the project is consistent with the applicable goals and policies. Earlier in 2003, PHA had participated in TCEQ's public meeting to discuss water quality issues related to the Bayport project. The meeting at the Bay Area Community Center in Seabrook, Texas was requested by State Rep. John Davis under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. More than 500 citizens expressed their views of support and opposition.

PHA and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department have signed a memorandum of agreement on PHA's plan to preserve coastal prairie habitat as part of the development of the proposed Bayport terminal. Specifically, the PHA will preserve 456 acres along the lower part of the San Jacinto River and 500 acres of prairie habitat. In the agreement, PHA and TPWD indicated that this additional preservation of valuable habitat completed a package that compensates for the impacts from the terminal facilities.

Additionally, written statements on PHA's coastal prairie preservation plan were submitted to the Corps of Engineers by three other agencies that had previously raised concerns about the environmental impacts of the proposed Bayport project. The statements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the TCEQ generally concluded that PHA's plan had adequately addressed their concerns and established appropriate conditions for Bayport to be granted a permit. The Corps considered the TPWD agreement, the written statements from the other agencies, and several public comments in its finalization of the ROD on the Bayport permit application.

In addition to coastal prairie preservation, PHA's design for the Bayport facility includes several other mitigation measures to compensate for environmental impacts. For example, the use of clean fuel and clean engine technology will help reduce air emissions. PHA's existing container facility at Barbours Cut recently completed an initiative to convert 28 rubber-tired gantry cranes and 25 yard tractors to Purinox, a diesel emulsion fuel that produces significantly lower levels of air emissions. The initiative was funded by $212,000 in grants awarded to PHA by the Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP). Previous tests of Purinox on Barbours Cut equipment engines have resulted in a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels and a 30 percent reduction in particulate matter.

Air emissions reduction, solid waste recycling, and storm water quality improvement are the key objectives of PHA's environmental management system (EMS). In 2002, Barbours Cut and PHA's central maintenance facility became the first of any U.S. port facilities to implement an EMS that complies with ISO 14001, the global standard for environmental excellence. PHA is committed to meeting ISO 14001 standards upon the completion and opening of the Bayport facility.

Another mitigation measure planned for the Bayport facility is a three-mile long buffer zone around the facility that will include a landscaped sight and sound berm that will be 20 feet tall. The buffer zone also includes part of an extensive storm water collection system that will protect Galveston Bay. Lighting systems designed to use black light poles and specially designed fixtures will limit night-time impacts at the facility. PHA's Bayport plan also involves jurisdictional wetland replacement at a ratio of more than three to one to increase the habitats available for fish, waterfowl and other coastal wildlife. Furthermore, the beneficial use of dredged material will create an additional 200 acres of inter-tidal marsh.

"We look forward to breaking ground at Bayport and the subsequent opportunities to accommodate the needs of our customers, enhance the Texas cruise industry, promote economic development and foster job creation," Edmonds said.

The Port of Houston Authority

The Port of Houston Authority owns and operates the public facilities located along the Port of Houston, the 25-mile long complex of diversified public and private facilities designed for handling general cargo, containers, grain and other dry bulk materials, project and heavy lift cargo, and other types of cargo. Each year, more than 6,600 vessels call at the port, which ranks first in the U.S. in foreign waterborne tonnage, second in overall total tonnage, and sixth largest in the world. The Port Authority plays a vital role in ensuring navigational safety along the Houston Ship Channel, which has been instrumental in Houston's development as a center of international trade. The Barbours Cut Container Terminal and Central Maintenance Facility are the first of any U.S. port facilities to develop and implement an innovative Environmental Management System that meets the rigorous standards of ISO 14001. Additionally, the port is an approved delivery point for Coffee "C" futures contracts traded on the New York Board of Trade's Coffee, Sugar & Cocoa Exchange. For more information, please visit www.portofhouston.com.



        

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