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Texas cruises produced $1.75 billion, industry says

GALVESTON

The international cruise industry pumped $1.75 billion into the Texas economy in 2018, and most of that money can be traced to the Port of Galveston, according to a new report from an industry trade group.

The Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group made up of the world’s cruise line companies, released new estimates about how much the cruise industry contributes to the nation’s economy.

The report continued to tout the Port of Galveston as a major player in the cruise industry, and as the fourth busiest cruise port in the country.

The 985,000 embarkations at the Port of Galveston in 2018 accounted for 7.8 percent of all cruise embarkations that year, according to the report.

In Texas during 2018, the cruise industry generated $1.5 billion in spending on everything from travel agencies, to hotels, to advertising, to industries that provide supplies and equipment to ships, according to the report.

The report also asserts spending tied to the cruise industry generated more than 26,000 jobs in Texas.

The report emphasizes just how much the cruise travel industry is growing in the United States. About 13 million people vacationed on cruise ships in 2018, a 9 percent increase compared with 2016, according to the report.

“There’s no doubting the enormity of the cruise industry’s contributions to the U.S. and global economies,” said Kelly Craighead, the association’s president and CEO.

“There is simply no better way to experience the world, and the cruise industry is proud to have such a positive impact on the people and communities we visit here in the United States.”

The report lauds Galveston’s port as one of the most consistently growing cruise ports in the United States.

In 2010, about 435,000 passengers left from Galveston on cruises. The 985,000 who left in 2018 were the most to ever leave the port in a single year.

Local officials said they expect that number to be surpassed this year. At of the end of October, more than 884,000 people had embarked on cruises through Galveston.

The port might hit the 1 million passenger milestone by sometime next month, port officials said recently.

“We’re on track for another banner year in 2019,” Port Director Rodger Rees said. “Our thriving cruise business has a significant direct economic impact on the port, Galveston businesses and the state economy.”


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'Handmade, boutique' oysters might soon be a thing

Oyster farming in Texas is moving ahead after two bills passed in the most recent legislative session giving the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department jurisdiction over operations and a charge to set rules and regulations.

Galveston Bay, the state’s most productive wild oyster habitat, will figure into those plans and stakeholders around the bay already are involved in discussions at the state level.

Also referred to as oyster aquaculture, oyster farming involves seeding and spawning oysters in cages rather than on the bay floor.

Raz Halili, vice president of San Leon’s Prestige Oysters, has been part of a task force working with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

“We still don’t really know where we’ll be allowed to do it,” Halili said. Oyster farming will take place in areas leased from the state of Texas and people with bay-front property will be able to get permits to grow oysters on their waterfronts, he said.

Because the cages are actual structures in the water, accessible from piers, the parks and wildlife department task of assigning areas where oysters can be farmed will have to take into account a wide variety of public opinion on where farming operations should be.

Other Gulf states already have begun practicing oyster aquaculture to supplement diminishing wild harvests, but only on a small scale, Halili said.

“Those other states don’t have the wild resources we have,” he said. “For us, it’s really a boutique thing similar to what you’d see on the East or West coasts. It won’t be mass production.”

Oyster aquaculture is labor intensive, creating bivalves that are handcrafted from the lab to the shell to the bay, Halili said.

“It’s a niche market for these smaller, more handmade oysters. We’re not talking about your oyster bar where you’re going to have oysters at a buck a shot. These will be more like $3 or $4 dollars a piece.”

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department has until Aug. 31, 2020 to come up with rules and regulations governing the new industry.

“We’re certainly shooting for earlier rather than later,” said Lance Robinson, deputy director of the Coastal Fisheries Division of the department. “Our plan now is to put together a proposal that we’ll present to the Parks & Wildlife Commission. It will probably be presented at their March meeting.”

Public meetings will be scheduled between now and then, including one in Galveston or Texas City, Robinson said.

There’s opposition out there to oyster aquaculture, in particular from residents reluctant to navigate around buoys and cages, in addition to support for another seafood industry in the state.

“We’ll factor in all of those concerns as we try to develop a program that would allow at least some activity in the state,” Robinson said.

In the eastern United States, oyster farming has been most prolific in the Chesapeake Bay area, driven by the scarcity of wild oysters there, Robinson said.

“Across the Gulf, several other programs have been in place for a number of years,” he said. “Alabama has 18 small, 1- to 2-acre tracts. Florida has a few. Mississippi had programs in place for several years, but hasn’t been able to get anyone interested in doing it.”

Growers will have to incur some upfront costs and the business is labor-intensive and expensive, he said.

Urban markets such as Houston will be targeted for these boutique harvests and giving it a try is of interest to Halili.

“It’s a complement to what we already do,” he said.

“There’s already been a lot of trial and error in other states and it’s good that Texas can learn from them as we move forward.”


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Crews try to keep Galveston's 45th Street dry as project drags to 2021

GALVESTON

Along with lingering general inconvenience, residents and businesses are worried about standing water on 45th Street, where a $10 million reconstruction project underway will take about a year longer than initially projected, city officials confirmed this week.

The major project is meant to significantly improve drainage in the area and originally was scheduled to end early next year, but won’t be finished until January 2021.

Until then, residents and business owners are contending with living and working around the construction zone and concerned about pools of water, which some call the “Cedar Lawn Swamp,” and getting around all the structures as crews replace the street and sewer lines and construct sidewalks.

Galveston has seen a lot of rain this season, said James Garner, city project inspector.

That means water in the street and saturated ground, which makes absorption of the water into the ground slower, Garner said.

“We just try to do the best we can,” Garner said.

Contractor mc2 Civil Inc., previously Main Lane Industries, uses mobile pumps to push the water from the east side of the street, which is torn up for the work, to the west side, where an underground drainage system is intact, Garner said.

Representatives with mc2 Civil referred questions to the city.

All the water collecting on 45th street is rainwater, Garner said. None of it has leaked from the construction, he said.

Some residents have worried about the standing water attracting mosquitoes. But because the water is constantly moving as crews pump it out, mosquitos aren’t a problem and the standing water doesn’t pose health issues, Garner said.

Still, the street always seems to have standing water on it, which also is difficult for pedestrians to navigate, said Karen Milasincic owner of Knapp Flower Shop, 1122 45th St.

The flower shop relies heavily on phone and internet orders, so the business is surviving the street reconstruction, but the inconvenience of it deters customers who want to stop in to place an order or make a quick pick up, Milasincic said.

“They have to jump through a 6-inch puddle and mud to get up to the sidewalk,” Milasincic said.

Some customers don’t realize the flower shop is still open, Milasincic said.

“It’s a little bit embarrassing, but most of them know it’s not our fault,” Milasincic said. “It’s amazing that people do still come in, to be honest.”

Milasincic has had an issue with someone trying to drive on a board construction crews set up to help people walk over the water, she said.

Garner is constantly talking to residents and has received phone calls as late as 10 p.m. from people concerned about the project status, he said.

Safety is of utmost concern to the city, and crews put up signs, use flaggers at intersections when necessary and walk pedestrians across the street, he said.

The project is an inconvenience, but that’s usually how construction projects go, Cedar Lawn resident John O’Connor said.

“It’s a construction project and you can’t nail everything down,” O’Connor said.

Residents call the water on 45th Street the Cedar Lawn swamp, O’Connor said.

“They could spend more time de-watering the pond,” O’Connor said. “For a project of the size they’re doing, it seems normal.”

What people are most concerned with is how long the project will take, Garner said.

There have been some delays on the project that city staff originally projected would end early 2020, city Architectural Projects Manager Dudley Anderson said.

City staff originally thought there was a drainage system under the east side of the road that just needed improvement, but there was no system at all, Anderson said.

All the paving should be complete by November 2020, but crews likely will open up sections of the road before that when possible, Anderson said.

The last two months of the project will involve landscaping and installing traffic signals, Anderson said.


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Volunteers spend Thanksgiving delivering food, comfort

GALVESTON

Sally Kline was expecting eight people at her house Thursday for Thanksgiving dinner.

But as the minutes ticked down to cooking crunch time, Kline wasn’t in front of the stove or setting a table; she was in a car staring at a cellphone map app and trying to figure out whether her destination was on Avenue M or Avenue M 1/2.

Figuring out the distinction was important, because Kline and her passengers were making and important delivery: Thanksgiving dinner for a homebound woman.

“It’s nice to be able to see people find a little joy,” Kline said. “Especially when they don’t have family and friends.”

Kline spent a few hours of her Thursday alongside dozens of other volunteers putting together and delivering meals to 119 people as part of the Galveston Island Meals on Wheels program.

Thursday’s delivery included a meal of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing and a pie, as well as a sandwich for Friday’s meal.

More importantly, the volunteers also provide some human contact for the people who are receiving meals, said the Rev. Ray Pinard, the executive director of Galveston Island Meals on Wheels Inc.

“We’re fortunate,” Pinard said. “We have some really dedicated people. It’s really heartwarming and inspiring that people are willing to take time on the holidays to do this. For some of the people they’re seeing, it’ll be the only visit they have today.”

The Galveston Island Meals on Wheels program began in 1974. When it started, there were just 10 people to deliver meals to, Pinard said. Today, the program volunteers deliver 160 meals to people on the island daily. The program will deliver 45,000 meals in Galveston alone this year.

On Thanksgiving Day, there are actually fewer deliveries because some of the clients visit family on the holiday, Pinard said.

Still, the pressure is on to find volunteers to deliver meals to others on a day that is focused on feeding friends and family.

Just before 11 a.m., volunteers carrying green tote bags began arriving at Moody Memorial Methodist Church and banging on the door to be let in to pick up their deliveries.

Not every volunteer is from Galveston. Judy Breitenbach and Jerry Feld usually travel to Galveston from Houston to help deliver meals, but volunteered to help on the holiday. Along with the meals, the couple also bought and delivered poinsettias to each of the homes on their route.

“It makes me feel good,” Breitenbach said. “I’m happy the rest of the day that I’ve done some good.”