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Galveston Rejects Houston Port Merger

December 19, 2001

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) _ Galveston residents rejected a proposal that would have given control of the city’s historic, 184-year-old port to the Port of Houston with a promise of badly needed upgrades.

The proposal defeated Tuesday called for the Port of Galveston to become a unit of the Port of Houston. The Port of Houston had promised to invest $30 million to repair Galveston’s dilapidated waterfront.

Unofficial final returns showed 4,060 voters, or 57.2 percent, against the proposal and 3,041, or 43 percent, in favor. The turnout of 7,101 was about 18 percent of the 39,000 registered voters.

``Those who opposed the merger proposal now must take initiative and come up with a plan to save the port, increase the jobs and improve our economy,″ said Fred Wychlep, a former Galveston port board chairman and merger backer.

Jim Edmonds, chairman of the Port of Houston Authority board, had estimated Houston’s investment in the Galveston port would have brought in 2,200 jobs to the city.

``As far as I’m concerned, we gave these folks an opportunity they’ll never get again,″ said Edmonds. ``We at the Port of Houston are going to go ahead with our business.″

Former Galveston port chairman and ex-mayor John Unbehagen led a group of influential citizens who worked to defeat the proposal. They said the city and Port of Galveston should ask private port operators worldwide as well as the Port of Houston for a chance to come up with a better deal.

He also said no actual contract for a merger had been drawn up.

``Galvestonians were asked to vote on a deal that wasn’t a deal yet,″ Unbehagen said.

Some opposition against the proposal stemmed from Galveston’s perceived lack of influence on the Port of Commission. The commission was to be expanded by one member to eight.

``The city of Galveston has spoken and said that they own the port, not the city council, the mayor, the International Longshoremans Association or the Port of Houston Authority,″ said George Liberato, spokesman for Citizens for Port Reform, the political action committee that fought the proposal.

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