By Errol A. Summerlin
It is well known that the Port of Corpus Christi actively promotes and encourages industry to locate in our area. The location of the Exxon/SABIC petrochemical plant in a newly designated reinvestment zone near the cities of Gregory and Portland has caused grave concern among many residents. They want to know what role the port played in this project and what plans it has for the future of San Patricio County. The need for transparency in port plans and open communication with citizens has been expressed not only by residents but elected officials.
I and many local residents attended the town hall meeting by the port on April 11 in Portland. It was billed as an “open town hall update on our latest projects and upcoming changes.” Many of us thought the port would share its specific plans for industrial growth in San Patricio County and particularly the Portland and Gregory communities. Instead, the port spent most of its time on the history of the port and lauding the economic impact of port activities.
While it promotes industry, the port admitted it has no power once industry locates here. The port described itself as an employer, a property owner and landlord. It operates the port, buys land, and builds warehouses. It continually promotes the area to fulfill its vision of becoming “the Energy Port of the Americas.” However, what we learned that night was that the port does not engage in strategic planning. They have no master plan for any of its activities. They have drawings on the board, some as old as 10 years, but these are not part of any master plan that engages the competing interests of economic growth, community sustainability, quality of life, and the environmental impact of its activities.
The port has no master plan. Yet, in 2015 it purchased the property immediately west of U.S. Highway 181 just south of Gregory, a sliver of land that is between the city limits of both Portland and Gregory. That purchase was directly across from their land on the east side of 181. A year later, they purchased the adjacent property to the west. This property bordered Wildcat Drive. Within three months of that purchase, Exxon, Gulf Coast Growth Ventures, and SABIC, applied for their tax abatements from the county, designating the two-square-mile area on the other side of port property as a new industrial reinvestment zone. I’m sorry, that sounds like a strategic and very covert plan to me.
When asked about this particular sequence of events, the port’s director stated he could not answer why they chose to purchase those specific parcels. Could it possibly be that these purchases were the result of simply living in the moment, purchasing property randomly with no plan?
I don’t think so, and the lack of transparency by the port should trouble everyone. These purchases created a corridor from the west to the Port’s La Quinta Terminal and the all important deep waters of the bay. It was exactly what Exxon/SABIC needed to build their plant in an area that had never been previously considered industrial. How could this not have been thought out? And, more important, how does the port assume it has the power and authority to simply create an avenue to expand the industrial corridor to the west without speaking to anyone about it; a unilateral, omnipotent decision with absolutely no community input.
Recently, at its regular meeting on March 21, the port went into executive session to “discuss the purchase of certain real property accessible to the La Quinta Channel.” Of course, no one except the port and the seller(s) know its location, but we know it is in San Patricio County. What potential impact may it have? What port purpose will it serve? We don’t know, and apparently the port doesn’t know either because it just buys land with no master plan.
Let’s face it. The port will not disclose its plans and how they affect our communities. The port has disregarded the rights of individual property owners. The port has disregarded the health and safety of citizens who will be affected by the reckless industrial expansion. The port engages in stealth and secrecy to deny citizen input in its “master plan,” a plan that doesn’t exist.
The port’s town hall did nothing to alleviate the concerns of citizens who live in their path. Port officials will continue to transform our communities unless they are held accountable for their actions.
Errol A. Summerlin is a retired attorney, Portland resident, and supporter of Portland Citizens United, a grass roots organization opposing the Exxon/SABIC project.