The Board of Pilot Commissioners on Friday took no action on a possible joint meeting with the Galveston Wharves Board after commissioners took issue with recent actions and comments regarding the cruise industry.
“I live in Galveston and all the time I’m in Kroger and someone comes up to me and asks why we are trying to get rid of Carnival and Royal Caribbean,” pilot board Secretary Brad Boney said. “I don’t know what can be done with a joint meeting, but I’m frustrated by the constant repeating arguments about this issue.”
Friday’s decision comes after months of talk about cruise line insiders being concerned about pilots using fog delays to retaliate against ship operators who complain about rates.
Wharves board Chairman Ted O’Rourke gave pilot commissioners a letter on port letterhead in October 2017 asking for a meeting between the two groups and proposed several ways to resolve the dispute. Wharves trustees later chastised their chairman for sending the letter without board approval, but acknowledged the issues needed to be addressed.
Pilot commissioners Friday rejected much of the recent conversation as hearsay and said they wouldn’t hold a joint meeting with the wharves board unless they took action as a group.
“I don’t think that board is on the same page,” Commissioner Henry Porretto said. “They can come back to us when they are together.”
Pilot board Chairman Kenny Koncaba agreed and called much of the public conversation leading up to Friday’s meeting erroneous.
The Board of Pilot Commissioners oversees the 16-member pilots association that charges tariffs on foreign-flagged oil tankers, cruise ships or other vessels piloted into or out of Galveston County ports.
The association, which is overseen by the Board of Pilot Commissioners, a five-member panel appointed by the governor, does not face competition and has the authority to decide when it is safe to guide ships in and out of ports.
The monopoly is allowed because pilots vying for business might otherwise take unnecessary risks and cause unsafe waterways.
Commissioners Friday said they didn’t think O’Rourke’s overtures were in good faith and weren’t sure what positive effects a meeting would have.
“Our charge is all vessels trafficking in our waters,” Commissioner Trey Hill said. “I can’t say talking is a bad idea. It’s sad our boards are not working together better. But if the objective is just to knock out all the tariffs for the cruise industry, that’s not going to fly.”
Galveston Mayor and wharves board Trustee Jim Yarbrough spoke during the public comment section of Friday’s meeting. He suggested that rather than a joint meeting perhaps representatives from each board could meet to discuss a range of issues.
“We want to build a better relationship,” Yarbrough said. “We have nothing against the pilot commissioners. We just want to narrow down the issues and understand their perspective. I don’t think that gets done in a big, public board meeting. If the two boards meet, everyone runs to their side on the issue and nothing gets done.”
Koncaba was uncomfortable designating someone to meet with the wharves board in what he called a “backroom meeting.”
“We’re going to wait for some other type of communication from the port,” Koncaba said.