Editor’s Note: This information was assembled from documents, official videos and from multiple sources that were there. All information from unattributed sources was confirmed independently by two or more additional sources. We were asked by many not to reveal their identities for fear of economic or political retaliation.
Thursday, April 8 at the Corpus Christi Regional Economic Development Corporation (CCREDC) the division between San Pat County and the City of Corpus Christi on one side and Nueces County and the Port of Corpus Christi Authority (POCCA) on the other, became even starker. Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales asked the CCREDC to pass a resolution supporting the joint Port/Nueces County legislation (SB 2186 – Hinojosa) giving them development authority in areas other than traditional port endeavors. These would include developing residential, recreation and infrastructure projects.
A similar bill was proposed last fall by the Port, but when nine area Mayors signed a letter of opposition they withdrew the proposed bill, only to have Canales push to have Nueces County propose SB 2186. The objection then and now, among the municipal entities and San Patricio County, is that the bill is an encroachment on their authority and threat to their tax base.
Senate Bill 2186 would allow the port to develop property owned in the unincorporated areas of Nueces County, the corporate limits of the City of Robstown, property owned by Nueces County leased to the authority in the unincorporated areas of Nueces County.
Members asked details about taxation, zoning and other issues as a language was extremely vague in the enabling legislation. When asked what the purpose of the legislation was, Port and County supporters stated they had no plan. Yet they had previously told Robstown, Port Aransas, and North Beach residents that they were asking for the authority specifically to benefit them.
San Patricio County Port Commissioner Wes Hoskins said in a previous interview that the most negative impact was this failure to communicate and cooperate reflected badly on the area when they requested state or federal funds. “They look at what is happening and say ‘Come back when you have your act together and can agree on what you want.”
Those with knowledge of the meeting confirm that both Canales and Port CEO Sean Strawbridge became extremely angry regarding their insistence for the CCREDC to support the legislation pushing it to a vote. The meeting lasted two and a half hours, and members described it as being very uncomfortable and divisive—and it didn’t;t have to be that way.
Sean Strawbridge’s attitude was said to reflect his earlier statement at Corpus Christi City Council when he was told the City was not interested in a desalination project on Harbor Island that he said the Port was pursuing for the City. His response was that he “begged to differ” and the Port was going to pursue it anyway. The permit for Harbor Island and La Quinta Channel has been set for public comment.
Iain Vasey, CEO of the CCREDC and other members reportedly objected saying this was outside their role. Opponents stated they may or may not support the legislation, but they were a cooperative marketing entity not a political body. Calls to Vasey and Secretary Phillip Ramirez were met with “No comment”.
Several sources stated Richard Valls, City appointed Port Commissioner, even suggested the Port pull its financial support from CCREDC and start their own economic development fund.
The matter resulted in a 7-7 tie, meaning it failed. Many who opposed it said to they were not necessarily against the legislation but it was inappropriate to ask CCREDC to support it. Corpus Christi and San Patricio County representatives were the core of the opposition.
Following the meeting, nasty texts reportedly were sent to opponents by Canales domestic partner and Port attorney Doug Allison (Allison was not in the meeting.). According to multiple sources such behavior is normal for Allison. Indeed, he unprofessionally blasted Precinct 4 Commissioner Brent Chesney on Facebook after Chesney and Canales disagreed on appointments to the county board that is responsible for Bob Hall Pier in Chesney’s Precinct.
This desperation was because Hinojosa’s bill in the Senate was presumably dead because a key Senate member objected to even giving it a hearing. With Hinojosa’s bill stalled in the Senate Abel Herrero (D) introduced almost the same bill in the House, HB-4640 on Friday, April 16. Herrero was reportedly told of Canales by Port Aransas Mayor Charles Bujan and his Council supported it. Herrero only found out later the Port Aransas City Council unanimously voted against it.
Canales also reportedly told Oil & Gas Association members she had letters of support from five Corpus Christi City Council Members. Only three Councilman, Ben Molina (D2), Billy Lerma (D1) and John Martinez (At-Large) have consistently supported Canales positions. One Councilman Gil Hernandez (D) has voted on both sides on different occasions. He stated he hadn’t been contacted about supporting them nor did he sign such a letter. Greg Smith (D4) stated he hadn’t signed any letter and indicated it was very unlikely any of the remaining members; Mayor Guajardo, Roland Barrera-D3, Michael Hunter and Mike Pusley, both At-Large would.
In an unusual move the bill had the normal posting requirements waived by House Transportation Committee Chair Terry Canales (D) District 40 (Brother of former State Rep and political operative Gabi Canales) and was set to be heard late on Tuesday.
San Patricio County Port Commissioner Wes Hoskins, City Councilman Roland Barrera and Mayors from Portland, Ingleside and Port Aransas quickly changed schedules to rush to Austin to testify against the bill.
San Patricio County Judge David Krebs expressed his position on the matter on Tuesday in a phone call with The Corpus Christi Light News. “There is no communication, no transparency, no trust. Public officials find out about projects when we read about it in the paper or our people come to us and ask us what’s going on and we don’t even know! The Port shows no concern for San Patricio residents. We’re fed up! Wes Hopkins (San Pat Port Commissioner) is working hard but they aren’t even sharing information with him. It’s gonna take a long time to rebuild the relationship.”