Court stops Port of Corpus Christi vote on Harbor Island lease
A judge stopped the Port of Corpus Christi Board of Commissioners from voting on a Harbor Island lease that could net $2 billion to $4 billion in revenue over the 50-year life of the lease. Commissioners were set to vote on the lease at their Tuesday, March 19, meeting when they learned that the 13th Court of Appeals granted a temporary restraining order on the move. The court ordered that no action could be taken until the court case is settled.
The stay was requested by former port Commissioner Kenneth Berry, president of The Port of Corpus Christi LP, who started his action with County Court-at-law Judge Mark Woerner on March 18.
Woerner denied the request for a temporary restraining order, saying he did not have enough time to consider all the evidence before the Tuesday meeting. Berry filed a writ of mandamus with the appeals court, winning the injunction. In the writ, he claimed the county court-at-law abused its discretion by “failing to issue injunctive relief.”
Berry accuses commissioners of violating the Open Meetings Act in negotiating a lease of 200 acres of property on Harbor Island in Port Aransas. He said commissioners have kept the process under wraps, violating the public’s right to know.
The proposed lease on the March 19 agenda is between the port and Lone Star Ports LLC, a joint venture between the Carlyle Group and Berry Lone Star Ports LLC. Lone Star Ports wants to build a marine terminal, pipelines, a petroleum storage facility, and two new docks capable of handling Very Large Crude Carriers, which can hold up to 2 million barrels of crude. It would be the first onshore location in the United States able to dock and load the bigger ships now used to import and export oil and gas products.
The project was first announced in October 2018. At the time, completion was estimated in late 2020. Carlyle’s money would come from its Global Infrastructure Fund. The next step at the time was to get approval from Carlyle’s investment committee. That seems to be accomplished now that a final agreement is slated to go before commissioners for a vote.
The proposal has met with opposition from more than Berry, who is being sued by the Port of Corpus Christi over his use of the name Port of Corpus Christi LLC for his company. The name was approved by the Texas secretary of state in 2014, a decision that was reversed in 2018 at the Port of Corpus Christi’s request. The secretary of state’s office said it made a mistake. Berry did not change the name, however, so the port filed suit in April 2018.
The Port Aransas Conservancy, a nonprofit advocacy group, has publicized its opposition through public meeting statements, newspaper advertising, and letters to officials.
“The impact on Port Aransas’ tourism and fishing industries — not to mention property values and quality of life — would be dramatic,” reads a statement against the expansion on the conservancy’s website. “These issues are not top of mind for POCC, but they certainly are for us.”
The Berry Group is the largest private employer in the Corpus Christi area. It has numerous investments and operations in the oil and gas industry along with its subsidiary Bay Ltd., an infrastructure, construction, and fabrication contractor headquartered in Corpus Christi. The Berry Group is led by directors Marvin Berry, Dennis Berry, and Lawrence Berry.
“We are pleased with the progress The Carlyle Group has achieved thus far in reaching full project commercialization," said Sean Strawbridge, chief executive officer of the Port of Corpus Christi in a December 2018 media release. "Our partnership with the Carlyle Group is designed to assure global energy markets that requisite infrastructure will be in place and ready to support the growing exports of American crude oil.”
The port awarded two contracts in December to begin work on a marine storage terminal and put in the electrical infrastructure needed for the Harbor Island facility.
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