State Sen. Whitmire criticizes Port of Houston for $9.5M cruise deal

February 8, 2013 8:41:32 PM PST
There are new questions over how the Port of Houston is using your money.

On Thursday night, we told you the port is paying cruise companies to use its long-abandoned cruise terminal. It's a deal that does nothing to pay back the public's investment, and that's not sitting well.

For five years, the $108 million Port of Houston cruise terminal sat empty -- a monument to a delayed dream to get a cruise ship to sail up the Houston Ship Channel.

Sometime next year, that dream will finally come true.

The port inked a deal last year to get two cruise lines to Houston, but at a substantial cost to you, the taxpayer -- as much as $10 million public dollars over five years in incentives just to get the cruise lines to come.

"The port is still a cash cow," Houston State Sen. John Whitmire said.

Whitmire has long complained the port spends too much and has too little accountability. And after we brought up the costs of this deal, he said it's time for heads to roll.

"It's still a huge mistake and the people who made the huge mistake are still being reappointed," Whitmire said.

Construction on the $100 million cruise terminal started in 2008. Five of the seven port commissioners who were on the board then are still on the board now. Many have been reappointed by the city of Houston and Harris County term after term -- something that hasn't been unnoticed by critical lawmakers.

"Completely waste $100 million on a boarded up facility and not one person that I can find has been held accountable for that, in terms of commission members and administrative staff," Whitmire said during a hearing.

The port commission's new chair, who's been on the board since 1999, still defends the deal.

"I don't think it matters if I like it. I just think it was appropriate and the commission approved it after recommendation of Col. Waterworth and his staff," Port Chairman Janiece Longoria said.

The port is facing a lot of scrutiny in Austin after the release of the Sunset Commission's report. One of the most serious proposals is to limit the terms of port commissioners. A lot of them have been members on the Port of Houston board for more than a decade.

Under one of the proposals being considered, five of the seven commissioners would be ineligible for reappointment as soon as their term is up.

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