Galveston Wharves: State of the Port

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“Obviously, the Port of Galveston is my favorite topic,” said Rodger Reese, port director and CEO of Galveston Wharves, as he opened his state of the port style presentation at the November Commerce Club luncheon. “We’ve had a lot of good luck, and we have a great team.” 

The Port of Galveston is the 46th largest port in the U.S., including the business that comes from the ship channel. It delivers $73 million in taxes. It is also the nation’s fourth largest cruise port, hosting more than one million passengers a year.  

The Port of Galveston issued $50 million in revenue bonds which yielded $52.6 million to the port for a $53 million renovation of their oldest cruise terminal. Done in partnership with Carnival Cruise Line, the top-to-bottom improvements were designed to expedite passenger embarkation and debarkation, meet federal requirements for U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations at the terminal, and prepare the terminal for larger ships like the Carnival Jubilee. (Ed. Note: The Carnival Jubilee sailed on her inaugural cruise from Galveston on Dec. 23, carrying 6,200 passengers.) 

Losing $58 million in revenue during the pandemic period, the cruise industry has “come back with a vengeance.” Rees noted that demand is high, with capacity filled at 100% aboard cruise ship vessels. 

The Port of Galveston is under a MOU (or Memorandum of Understanding) with Mediterranean Shipping Company to build another terminal, which will add a fourth cruise terminal to the port. The Galveston Wharves Board of Trustees voted on Nov. 7 to approve a $5.3 million engineering and architecture services contract for the facility. Pending approvals and other circumstances, the terminal could be in operation as soon as 2025. 

The cruise business is expected to continue its growth in Galveston. Approximately 360 cruise ships were anticipated in 2023, with 380 in 2024, and 400 in 2025. 

In cargo, the port moved more than 4 million tons in 2022. In the first quarter of 2023, cargo movements totaled 994,000 tons, up 16 percent over the same period for the previous year. Rees indicated all cargo categories, including bulk grains bulk liquids, bulk fertilizer, wind and general cargo, and more were growing, with an expectation that wind energy products will become an area of cargo growth in 2024. 

Considering future cruise and cargo growth, Rees noted their master plan includes an interior roadway with a total estimated cost of $30 million. The phased project includes widening and expanding existing roads and improving drainage. The port has completed three sections, with two more to be completed in the next few years.  

“We recently received a grant from TxDOT for infrastructure,” said Rees. “It was the first time for us to receive funding for use inside our gates – in the secured area.”  Funding is for a major cargo infrastructure project on the west end, restoration of a section of the port’s interior roadway, and an enclosed pedestrian walkway over Harborside Drive (State Highway 275). 

The Port of Galveston has been Green Marine certified since 2021 and was the second port in Texas to become accredited with the environmental organization. Their process began with benchmarking their annual environmental performance in the area of waste reduction through Green Marine’s self-evaluation guides. The port earned its certification after an accredited external verifier confirmed their results. Green Marine is a voluntary environmental program for North America’s maritime industry. 

Rees concluded the presentation with a Q&A session. The Commerce Club luncheon is hosted on the second Thursday of each month at the Houston Marriott South at Hobby Airport.