Roger Quiroga, who in 2013 backed a push for a desalination plant on Pelican Island, still thinks the technology has potential to solve water woes driven by climate change.
But if he were elected mayor, and his business associates also interested in the technology resumed looking on the island, he’d wave them off, Quiroga said Tuesday.
“I would probably tell the company not to build here, not while I’m mayor,” he said.
Quiroga is running against Galveston city councilman and Mayor pro tem Craig Brown to be the next mayor of Galveston.
The Daily News on Wednesday morning published a column by Kevin Moran, a former Houston Chronicle reporter, that questioned Quiroga’s motives for running for mayor and his connections to a company that made an odd presentation to city leaders more then seven years ago.
Moran recalled a Galveston City Council meeting in 2013, when Quiroga, who was then the economic development director for the Port of Galveston, accompanied developer J. Michael Graham into the chambers to pitch a fantastical idea for a major infrastructure project.
Along with Quiroga, Graham was accompanied by former Galveston Mayor Barbara Crews.
Graham, representing a firm called Transort, wanted the council to support a bid to build a $4 billion desalination plant on port land on Pelican Island. He said it would bring 100,000 jobs to the island, 200,000 gallons of potable water, 1,500 megawatts of power a day and $190 million a year in new revenue for the city.
The proposed revenue bump would be more than the city’s current operating budget, which is about $148 million, and 100,000 jobs was almost twice the city’s population.
Graham asked the council to vote then and there to create a “non-taxing infrastructure authority” to help support the idea, despite the fact the item wasn’t listed for action on the agenda, as the law requires for a vote, but only for the council to “receive a report for the Port of Galveston.”
The pitch arrived before the council apparently without any vetting by city management or the planning department.
The council, led then by Mayor Lewis Rosen, declined and told Graham to work on the idea and come back later. Graham never went back.
Quiroga at the time told the council it was blowing the “deal of the century.” The topic had never arisen in Galveston in the seven years since.
Moran’s column noted a reference Quiroga posted on his Facebook page to another company, Hellenic LLC.
Like Transort, Hellenic pitches itself as a developer of major infrastructure projects around the world, although it isn’t clear whether the company actually has succeeded in building anything.
Moran noted that Hellenic’s website, which is no longer active and only available in archived forms, listed some of the same investors connected to Transort, including Graham.
Moran accused Quiroga of not revealing a conflict of interest to the council when he appeared in 2013.
Quiroga on Wednesday said at the time of the meeting he had no financial ties to reveal. He said he was offended by Moran’s suggestion the meeting was improper or that his campaign was designed, in part, to revive the project.
Quiroga still is connected to Hellenic, he said. He’s considered a principal of the company but on Wednesday said he couldn’t clearly define what that meant.
Quiroga said his understanding was the company was focused on building desalination plants on the East Coast and in Greece, and that he would be more active in the company if it generated more interest in Texas. Despite his title, Quiroga said he hadn’t received “one red cent” from Hellenic.
He said his support of the desalination project should be a sign of the kinds of ideas he’d bring to the city, if elected mayor. He accused the current city council, which includes Craig Brown, of thinking too small.
“We don’t want to believe big and explore opportunities like that,” Quiroga said. Still, if he were elected mayor and Hellenic set its sights on Galveston, he would recommend that the company “hold off,” he said.
Quiroga isn’t the only Galveston resident or public official with ties to Hellenic, according to a review of the company’s old website.
Port of Galveston Attorney Tony Brown was listed on the website as the company’s senior vice president of legal affairs. The item noted his experience and specialities as a lawyer and his position at the port.
Tony Brown confirmed Wednesday he had done legal work for Hellenic in the past but said it was unrelated to his job at the port. He said he was unaware he’d been listed as an executive for the company until he was informed of it by The Daily News.
“I am not an investor, officer or director of this company,” Tony Brown said.
The website listed Neil Geary as its executive vice president of global public affairs. Geary’s wife, Sandra Geary, is Quiroga’s campaign treasurer, according to campaign finance documents.
Also listed among Hellenic’s investors was C.B. “Bix” Rathburn, Galveston County’s former economic development director.
Tony Brown said Wednesday his role with the company was helping it incorporate as a nonprofit. His impression was that any effort to build a desalination plant in Galveston “fell apart” because construction costs would outstrip any revenues from it because of a lack of demand, he said.
“There were no customers here,” Tony Brown said. “Nothing’s happened. I’m not spending any time on it.”