Captain's Corner: When and What

Posted By: CAPT Bill Diehl, USCG (Ret.), P.E. Port Bureau News, Captain's Corner,

By CAPT Bill Diehl, GHPB President

The new year is ringing in on a hopeful note as the vaccines roll out and we think about all the things we want to do when life progresses on to the new normal. January 1 (or maybe January 2) is typically the time we jump right into pursuing our new goals, and I think we are all hoping for sooner rather than later in enjoying new prospects.

The news and views on just what the new normal might look like and how we are going to live and do business in it flood my inbox. The main consensus seems to be it will be different.

But how different? Experts speculate, but I would rather take what we know and get going with goal setting and practical planning.

Yes, the questions we ask ourselves will be difficult as we set our goals and decide how we will achieve them in 2021. Asking – and answering – the right questions has never been more important. I thought about this recently when our incoming chairman, Bernt Netland, was discussing how the Project 11 public-private financing proposal and the efficiency trial of the PortXchange port planning platform factor into our plans in the upcoming year. Bernt challenged the leaders gathered on Zoom to evaluate and debate both channel funding and traffic efficiency by asking us: If not now, when – and if not this, what?

It’s an insightful and solution-driven way to examine our priorities and make decisions. If now is not the time to invest in expanding the Houston Ship Channel, then when is the time? If the PortXchange technology is not the way we want to pursue scheduling optimization, then what is that platform?

If we are going to be realistic in considering the “when and what” of these initiatives, we need acknowledge that federal government infrastructure dollars in the new normal are probably going to be allocated to bridges and roads – not waterways. Are we willing to wait 20 years or more to realize the benefits of a deeper, wider, safer Houston Ship Channel?

Although I’ve heard some say that the channel will eventually get constructed if we don’t raise the funds now, I disagree. I believe that one is either growing their business or collapsing it. A solid plan for a safer, larger, more efficient channel is something that will motivate companies to invest long term in this area. Keeping the Ship Channel deeper and wider to accommodate ever-larger vessels and ensure two-way traffic relies heavily on our own collective ingenuity. And, that’s really not a new thing -- it’s what we’ve done from the first day we started digging mud out of Buffalo Bayou!

Then, as now, some issues can’t be resolved by just one person or just one company. The Port Bureau is here to provide the collaborative connections and couple it with information you need for the “when and what” of tackling the challenges to sustained success. We look forward to working with you in whatever the new normal brings - new spaces or old; virtual meetings or in-person - in 2021.

Happy New Year,

About the Author

CAPT Bill Diehl, USCG (Ret.), P.E. is president of the Greater Houston Port Bureau. Utilizing his 30+ years of marine safety and port operations experience, he guides the Port Bureau in bringing members and community partners together for cooperation and collaboration to improve and advance the port region.