Local Mayors Send A Letter To The Port With Strong Objections Over A Certain Legislative Action Item

The tanker Houston Star makes its way into the inner harbor at the Port of Corpus Christi, Texas last week. )Matt Pierce/GettY Images)

While Port of Corpus Christi officials spent much of last week on a type of localized goodwill tour a letter signed by ten Coastal Bend mayors seems to tell a little bit different of a story. The letter addresses their objections to a portion of the Port’s legislative agenda that would in essence strip the cities of their rights to govern the port on certain elements such as local building codes and zoning laws. 

“They are trying to get the legislature to exempt them from for certain things like building codes and a whole bunch of other regulations,” Corpus Christi Mayor joe McComb told The Southside Light News on Friday. “We are not in support of this.” 

Mayor McComb pointed out that in the letter sent to Port of Corpus Christi Chairman Charlie Zahn the ten mayors solidified their unity and objection. 

“They think they can get this through the legislature,” McComb said. “That is based on previous legislative preformance. But we wanted to make our objection known about it.” 

The draft of the legislation would allow the Port of Corpus Christi to lease their real property to another entity and in essence end up exempting that entity from local regulations just because it is built on Port of Corpus Christi property. 

It is likely that the legislation would be seen as a local issue by the Texas Senate, who would most likely have to be the legislative body to introduce the bill due to legislative rules. There is a possibility that it could originate in the House, but either way, even if the Lt. Gov. were to place it on an agenda, the likelihood of it ever coming to fruition would tough. But the fact remains, the Port of Corpus Christi had the audacity to even ask for such an authority that would in essence allow them to act further as their own stand alone government. 

As for the group of local mayors to sign the letter, they say clearly that they feel as if the legislative agenda item would strip them of more of their control that they fight to retain every session. Their argument is seconded by the Texas Municipal Legaue, which is a unified front that represents 1,160 cities within the state on issues such as this.

You might be wondering how this is even an issue? The explanation is simple: 

Let’s say that the Port wants to build a new building. That building, if built by anybody else, anywhere else in the city, would require emergency exits on every wall that were spaced 20 feet apart. To meet city code, the owner and the builder would have to build in those fire exits to the local standard and place them in the proper location. If the drafted legislation were to somehow be implemented by the legislature, the Port of Corpus Christi could exempt themselves from following those local standards that anybody else would have to follow. 

If you are asking yourself how that is being a good neighbor, you might be on the right course of thinking. The Port of Corpus Christi thinks that somehow they should just not have to follow the same rules as everybody else—and their plan is to use the Texas Legislature to make it happen. 

“I mean look, I would guess they would assume all responsibility if something were to happen,” Mayor McComb said. “What if they wanted to lease Port property to a hotel for the next 50 years would that hotel be exempt from building code?” 

“We already cut them some slack on that stuff with their new building they have under construction,” Mayor McComb said. 

Now it seems as if the Port of Corpus Christi didn’t think that was good enough and now they want complete control of everything that they do without much local oversight. That just doesn’t seem to sit well with local leadership, and maybe it shouldn’t.

See a copy of the letter sent from the coastal bend mayors on November 12, 2020–the same day that the Port of Corpus Christi delivered their state of the port address. Port Aransas Mayor Charles Bujan did not sign the letter and we are still working to obtain comment from him and his office.