Rice U group finds fault with Ike Dike proposal

December 1st, 2018

By Mary Alys Cherry

Ten years after the storm surge from Hurricane Ike devastated the Galveston Bay area, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced plans Oct. 26 for what is considered a more ambitious version of the proposed Coastal Spine or Ike Dike, as the project to protect the region.

The Corps proposes building a 70-mile-long coastal barrier to protect the Texas coastline from future storm surge, at a cost of somewhere between $23 and $31 billion – considerably higher than the original projection, which was for a smaller project.

Four days later on Oct. 31 Moody’s Investors Service gave its stamp of approval, noting that the proposed system would protect a region that contributes 24 percent of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP) and is home to the largest manufacturing center in the United States along the Houston Ship Channel and to one fourth of Texas’ population.
Now the federal agency’s plan has come under attack.

Just as most of the area population was glad that at long last, something was going to be done to protect us came headlines that the folks over at Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evaluation from Disasters Center were questioning the Corps of Engineers’ proposal, charging that the Corps’ information was out of date.

This did not sit well with Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell, who worked for several years with UTMB Galveston Prof. Bill Merrell, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and others trying to get the coastal spine project approved and financed.

“I think it is very unfortunate,” Mitchell said, “that Rice SSPEED Center has elected to attack the work that the Corps of Engineers has done in support of the ‘coastal spine’ and its ‘tentatively selected plan.’ There is a process that we go through in the form of hearings and written testimony that allows organizations and individuals to ask for clarification or to present ideas and changes they may think are important. “Rice SSPEED Center, in my opinion, should follow the process like the rest of us and try to be part of the team and not adversarial. This is not the time to see who can yell the loudest but a time to work together.”

Instead of being glad to finally see the federal agency come up with a plan to protect the area, SSPEED officials questioned the proposal, just as they had done after UTMB Galveston Prof. Bill Merrell proposed building the Ike Dike in 2009. Back then, instead of protecting homes and businesses in Galveston and the Bay Area communities with an Ike Dike to stop storm surge, the Rice SSPEED Center felt it was more important to protect industry along the Houston Ship Channel than those homes, schools and businesses in the Galveston Bay area. Finally, when they found everyone else favored the Ike Dike/Coastal Spine concept, SSPEED officials dropped their proposal.

But once the Corps of Engineers released its proposal, SSPEED officials found fault with the study. They said the proposal was incomplete as it did not account for the recent stronger storms and that the Corps information was out of date – assertions that were quickly disputed by the Corps. In addition to the Ike Dike, the Rice group proposes building a midbay seagate to protect the Houston Ship Channel and Harris County from storm surge. Their suggestion is much the same as their earlier proposal. And, just as before, they want to protect industry; and they don’t appear to care what happens to Kemah, Seabrook, Nassau Bay, Dickinson, El Lago, Taylor Lake Village, Clear Lake City, Friendswood, Santa Fe, Alvin, Pearland, Texas City, La Marque, League City, Webster and Galveston.

The Houston Chronicle also was upset with their actions, pointing out in an editorial that protecting the coastal region from the devastation suffered during Ike and Harvey “is far too important to let a fight over the path forward leach away the project’s necessary momentum before it ever has a chance,”

“It’s worth cheering that we’ve arrived at wide support for the coastal spine project, a system of floating gates intended to ward off storm surge….When was the last time officials from Houston, Harris County, the coastal region and the State of Texas have all been on the same page about spending (billions) in mostly federal dollars to help this region? How about never?”

“Critics and supporters of the Ike Dike should take care to help steer but not divert the ship that is finally on course to becoming reality,” the Chronicle added.

We agree. We’ve waited far too long for some action, and the Army Corps of Engineers has worked more hours than they can probably count to get this far. The SSPEED officials should submit their thoughts at one of the public hearings just like everyone else, instead of trying to make headlines and disrupt the process.

A series of six public meetings have been scheduled in November and December by the Corps for public comment on the proposal with the first held Nov. 27 in Port Lavaca. Others are planned in Seabrook, Corpus Christi, Port Isabel, Winnie and Galveston.

The Seabrook meeting will be held Tuesday, Dec. 18 at the Bay Area Community Center in Clear Lake Park from 5:30 p.m. to 9. The Galveston meeting will be on Wednesday, Dec. 12 in the Galveston Island Convention Center, 5600 Seawall Blvd., also from 5:30 p.m. to 9. For a complete list or information on how to submit public comment, visit the Army Corps of Engineers website, http://coastalstudy.texas.gov/get-involved/index.html

A final study is to be released in 2021 before sending it to Congress for funding.

State of Counties Address draws large BAHEP crowd

November 1st, 2018

BAHEP President Bob Mitchell, from right, welcomes Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, TXU Energy Business Director Jason Schultz and Tiger 21 Chairman Rick Gornto to the State of the Counties Address Sept. 27 at Lakewood Yacht Club in Seabrook.

By Mary Alys Cherry

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett probably grow tired of giving speeches, but one attending Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership’s State of the Counties Address Sept. 27 at Lakewood Yacht Club would never know it.

Both reeled off things foremost in the public’s mind, and, interlacing their remarks with a sprinkling of humor, provided BAHEP members with a quick look at the projects and problems at hand.

Judge Emmett spoke first, expressing his pleasure over the passage of the $2.5 billion Harris County flood bond referendum, noting that having the money on hand is necessary to getting matching federal dollars for Harvey improvements, going on to stress that “we need more accurate flood plain maps.”

He also discussed indigent healthcare, a cost borne by property owners that will probably be even more costly in the future. “We’ve got to get away from the county jail being the largest healthcare facility in the county,” he said, explaining that we’re turning a lot of bad kids into bad criminals instead of trying to rehabilitate them. “They get out of prison but can’t get a job because they have a prison record,” he said, “and eventually end up back in jail.”

Judge Henry reeled off a number of headline-type facts for the crowd, including the news that a Coastal Spine study by the seven-county group is due next month. Other items of interest:

  • Work on the expansion of State Highway 146 will begin in January 2019.
  • A total of 20,000 Galveston County homes were damaged during Hurricane Harvey.
  • The Highway 646 overpass will be destroyed in January 2019.
  • Friendswood is growing with a big new development under way.
  • Galveston is getting a third cruise line and a record number of tourists this summer.
  • League City’s population is now approximately 120,000.
  • La Marque is the county’s fastest growing city, because of a big new development.

Area mayors attending included Pat Hallisey of League City, Carl Joiner of Kemah, Mike McNamara of Clear Lake Shores, Mike Foreman of Friendswood, Louis Rigby of La Porte, Thom Kolupski of Seabrook and Michel Bechtel of Morgan’s Point, along with State Rep. Dennis Paul, Councilmen Dave Martin of Houston and Larry Millican of League City and Mayor Pro-tem Amanda Fenwick of Clear Lake Shores.

JSC director Geyer speaks of America’s space leadership role today, in the future

October 1st, 2018

By Mary Alys Cherry and Kathryn Paradis

Knowing the human tendency to overlook the value of many outstanding things in our daily lives – things that become “old hat” – Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer reminded Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership members of the great value of the International Space Station, which has been circling the Earth for the past 18 years.

“Station is an incredible international achievement,” he said as he opened his address, “and I want to talk about the different pieces that make ISS so special. People may not be aware of the details surrounding the amount of utilization that is happening every day on Space Station.

“There are payload experiments – things we are pushing the envelope on – on how to live and work in space, which is really going to be important when we go to the moon and on to Mars. A Mars journey could take three years or longer. We’re learning about how the human body behaves and how it changes. We’re learning how to mitigate those things through exercise and nutrition. There’s an incredible amount of work that goes on every day; plus, we get some cool pictures!”

It also has helped the United States and Russia become space buddies, he explained.

Their space friendship began back at the turn of the century when the first international crew, commanded by American astronaut William M. Shepherd, arrived on a Russian Soyuz that launched on Oct. 31, 2000. Since that day, he said there has always been an American onboard Station.
“Station brings a symbol of national leadership in the world. We lead the rest of the world in space. I had a chance to meet with the U.S. ambassador in Russia when I was over there for a launch. He told me that as difficult as relationships are with the Russians, Space Station is the one thing, the one positive thing that we are doing together. That’s important.”

Then he cautioned, “Another thing to remember is that if the United States doesn’t lead in space, there’s another county that cannot wait to lead in space, and that’s China. We know that they are making efforts to do that.”

After briefly talking about the commercialization of space, he took the crowd into the future — the commercial opportunities the ISS offers and plans to build the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in the 2020s to launch the Orion spacecraft on 21-day missions past the moon and back. And, how JSC will continue to be a key part of the integration of that program.

And, what about new NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine? “He is extremely personable and very open, Geyer says. “He really likes to meet with teams and talking with the interns. He’s trying very hard, listening to people. I love working for him; he’s a great guy.”

Geyer, who was introduced by BAHEP Chairman and San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer, began his NASA career in 1990 at JSC and has been here ever since. He has witnessed much during the ensuing years – both triumph and tragedy. His presentation left many with the feeling, however, that the best is yet to come both for NASA and for Johnson Space Center.

Senate panel hears BAHEP president on importance of International Space Station funding after 2024

August 1st, 2018

BAHEP President Bob Mitchell

The Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership has been an avid supporter of NASA, and specifically of the missions of the NASA’s Johnson Space Center, for decades. Elected officials and the media often consult with BAHEP President Bob Mitchell to share his expertise in regard to the aerospace industry.

In May 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz, chairman of the Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation invited Mitchell to provide testimony before his subcommittee regarding the International Space Station.

Given just five minutes to state his support for federal funding for the ISS beyond 2025, Mitchell testified before the subcommittee on June 6, 2018. Following is his testimony in full.

Chairman Cruz, Ranking Member Nelson, distinguished members of the committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today and to testify on the important topic of the International Space Station.

I serve as the president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, a member-driven, 501(c)( 6) nonprofit economic development organization located just outside the gates of the Johnson Space Center in Bay Area Houston. We have over 268 members, which include a diverse mix of businesses in aerospace, medical, life sciences, petrochemicals, and maritime.

We also are proud to work on initiatives that contribute to the economic growth of the 13 cities and two counties in the area around the Johnson Space Center. Although aerospace companies make up a fraction of our membership, the entire business community understands and values the contributions of NASA and the space community in making all of our lives better.

The ISS is a critical element of the work performed in Houston at the Johnson Space Center and the backbone to maintaining a number of key elements of our success in human spaceflight: the astronaut corps, mission control, countless technical resources, and world-class researchers. The Johnson Space Center offers an unparalleled national capability that has been built over decades of experience. The loss of or weakening of its capabilities would have dramatic implications to our outcomes in deep space exploration.

The Return on Investment (ROI) on the ISS can be calculated in many ways. It is difficult to quantify the exact dollar value of many of these returns, but the overall impact is undeniable. The International Space Station – by its design and enactment – has established the foundation for sustained generation of technology that improves life on earth.

Each year, spinoffs like new drugs, materials, and scientific technology become licensed and begin generating new revenue streams for companies large and small.

Beyond the ability to show an ROI, the International Space Station positions us to tackle the challenge of deep space by buying down cost and risk now to give missions to the Moon and Mars a head start. The station is a critical, inexpensive test bed for exploration hardware that needs to work perfectly on its first live mission. It allows us to test, tweak, and perfect life support systems, radiation abatement methods, and other advanced materials. These breakthroughs will eventually make it from the launch pad into our homes and businesses across America.

Through engagement with the Russian space agency and 13 other ISS partners, the U.S. has led an era of peaceful collaboration and exploration that has provided stability in space leading to the current level of space commercialization.This commitment to the ISS — uninterrupted for the last 25 years — has provided more than just a destination in space. The ISS has cultivated:

  • A cultural learning lab for diplomacy, education, and inspiration
  • A learning lab for technology applications – testing performance machines, materials, and humans in space
  • A science lab for comparing terrestrial knowledge in a new frontier of weightlessness
  • A lab for exploring both our earth and outer space in preparation for the next exploration endeavors

I think it is important to take a detailed look at the overall ISS budget, which is often cited at $3 billion per year. What is misleading about that estimate is that the Commercial Crew and Cargo programs are funded out of those funds, along with overhead costs at the centers housing the programs and other expenses. The real ISS budget is a fraction of that total cost, ranging from $1B – $1.5B/year. Saving this much each year will have a minimal impact on our overall exploration efforts in terms of a funds transfer. Commercial alternatives would likely cost significantly more than sustaining the ISS, essentially creating an entirely new development program, while providing a fraction of the existing capabilities.

If the U.S. government terminates its support of the ISS in 2025, and we step away from ISS before an equivalent long-term engagement is created, there will be a disruption in the space program and the emerging commercial space industry.

Not very long ago, NASA’s Constellation Program was cancelled at the same time as the retirement of the Space Shuttle Program, which had a profoundly negative impact on America’s leadership position in space.

I sincerely hope that we all learned a valuable lesson from this and trust that you will not allow history to repeat itself! My position is that the U.S. government should commit to the ISS for as long as it is safely feasible to do so.

However, as we succeed, others look to follow. As you have probably seen, just last week China invited other nations to partner with them on their space station. They realize, as we do, the power of these partnerships and the leadership and the technology that can be gained from them.

As we question our commitment to the future of ISS, the Chinese space program is actively seeking to leverage this moment in time to provide an alternative path and platform for our traditional international partners in space. This has very serious implications for our national security, trade and technology partnerships and leadership if this is not managed carefully. At the end of the day, the ISS program is the culmination of all of the reasons we are so passionate about the entire space program – it represents America’s future in global leadership, education, innovation, healthcare, and our quality of life.

Thank you for the invitation to speak on this topic, and I look forward to your questions.

Reid Ryan offers inside look at the Astros

June 1st, 2018

Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell, left, and Board Chairman Dr. Brenda Hellyer welcome Houston Astros President Reid Ryan to the BAHEP luncheon at South Shore Harbour Resort.

By Kathryn Pardis

Baseball runs deep in Reid Ryan’s family. His dad, Nolan, pitched for 27 years and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999. Nolan was with the New York Mets when they won the World Series in 1969. Now, Reid, as president of Business Operations for the Houston Astros since May 17, 2013, personally knows the euphoria that comes with that level of success.

The Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership invited Reid to speak at its May luncheon, to share his thoughts on the Astros’ 2017 World Series title, and there was definitely a level of anticipation in the air even before he took the stage wearing his bedazzling World Series ring. And, he quickly filled the room with laughter when he said the most in demand “person” from the Astros organization is the Commissioner’s Trophy at No.1. Astros Mascot Orbit is No. 2, trailed by José Altuve at No. 3!

The mantra for the Astros this year is Never Settle, he said, making it very clear that the Astros are not satisfied with just one World Series Championship. And, with their wonderful camaraderie, that might not be so difficult.

“They are great players, but they are even better human beings. When you have guys that like each other, that root for each other, the sky’s the limit. These guys have the common denominator that they don’t want to be good, they want to be great. José (Altuve) is making our players better, and Justin (Verlander) is making our pitchers better. Talent raises talent.”

Seabrook Mayor Thom Kolupski, center, and Councilman Joe Machol are happy to see Amanda Fenwick, mayor pro-tem of their neighboring city of Clear Lake Shores at the BAHEP luncheon.


Webster City Manager Wayne Sabo and City Secretary Crystal Roan, right, join City Councilwoman Beverly Gaines at the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership luncheon at South Shore Harbour Resort.

Special treat awaits the BAHEP Board

May 1st, 2018

Long Star Flight Museum CEO Doug Owens, right, welcomes Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell and BAHEP Board Chairman Dr. Brenda Hellyer to the Flight Museum’s new home at Ellington Airport.

Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership’s Board of Directors were in for a treat when they met for their April meeting. Instead of gathering at the BAHEP office, they met at the beautiful new Lone Star Flight Museum, which moved here last fall from Galveston.

And, as the meeting got underway, Flight Museum CEO Doug Owens, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general, traced the history of the Flight Museum, education programs, future plans and invited board members to attend the May 5, 2018 Flights of Fancy Gala at the museum when six who made significant contributions to aviation will be inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame – Capt. James Lovell, Congressman Sam Johnson, Azellia White, Brig. Gen. Noel Parrish and Thomas and Paul Braniff.

BAHEP to honor Mayor Sylvester Turner with Silver Anniversary Quasar Award

January 1st, 2018

By Kathryn Paradis

Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership will honor Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner with its esteemed Quasar Award on the Silver Anniversary of this prestigious event, which will be held on Jan. 26 at the South Shore Harbour Resort in League City.

The Quasar Award recognizes an outstanding elected official or business leader who, through his or her actions and leadership, has demonstrated a strong and continual effort to support the business foundations of the greater Bay Area Houston communities.

The recipient’s actions must have gone above and beyond to promote the economic development of the region and the fulfillment of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership’s objectives to recruit, retain and expand primary jobs in the region. The award is presented during the organization’s formal Quasar Award banquet, which annually brings together nearly 700 individuals who celebrate and congratulate the honoree.

“Significantly, Mayor Turner has stepped forth to champion the coastal spine system to protect the region from hurricane storm surge,” BAHEP President Bob Mitchell said in announcing the award. “Additionally, his work to ensure a fiscally sound City of Houston will be a lasting testament to his outstanding leadership for decades to come.  Mayor Turner’s foresight has contributed immeasurably to the economic strength of Bay Area Houston.”

Houston City Councilman Dave Martin, whose district includes Bay Area Houston, said, “Mayor Sylvester Turner has been and continues to be a strong proponent for Bay Area Houston. Spearheading the city’s efforts to implement pension reform, addressing our mobility and infrastructure initiatives, and fostering a strong economic development agenda for the Bay Area region, are the cornerstones of Mayor Turner’s first two years in office.

“With the mayor’s strong endorsement of the coastal spine system, our Bay Area homes and business will be protected from future hurricane surge,” he added.

Elected in December 2015, Mayor Turner is serving his first four-year term as Houston’s 62nd mayor. Since taking office, he eliminated a $160 million budget shortfall in record time, led the city’s remarkable rebound from Hurricane Harvey, expanded municipal investments in renewable energy, and led the winning bid to host the World Petroleum Congress in 2020.

As the head of the energy capital of the world and the most diverse city in the nation, Mayor Turner has brought a performance-driven approach to the job, creating more responsive, streamlined and efficient delivery of city services while shoring up Houston’s financial future.

One of the mayor’s signature initiatives is Complete Communities, which aims to improve the quality of life for residents in all neighborhoods. The mayor’s other priorities include filling more than 90,000 potholes on city streets, implementing a six-point holistic plan for addressing homelessness, reducing flooding, and improving drainage.

Mayor Turner’s civic leadership has been nationally recognized through his service as a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Transportation and Communications Standing Committee, vice chairman of the National Climate Action Agenda, member of the C40 and Global Covenant for Mayor’s for Climate and Energy, and an advisory board member of the African American Mayors Association.

Prior to his election as mayor, Mayor Turner served for 27 years in the Texas House as the representative for District 139.  He worked on the House Appropriations Committee for 21 years and served as Speaker Pro Tem for three terms.  He was appointed to several Budget Conference committees to help balance the state’s budget and served on the Legislative Budget Board.

Mayor Turner is a life-long resident of Houston and lives in the Acres Homes community where he grew up with eight siblings.  He is a graduate of the University of Houston and earned a law degree from Harvard University. He began his law practice at Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P. and later founded the Barnes & Turner Law Firm.

Previous recipients of the Quasar Award are:
1994   Texas Gov. Ann Richards
1995   U. S. Rep. Tom DeLay
1996   U. S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
1997   U. S. Rep. Nick Lampson
1998   JSC Director George W. S. Abbey
1999   Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and Galveston County Judge Jim Yarbrough
2000   Robert L. Moody Sr.
2001   Houston Mayor Lee P. Brown
2002   Harris County Commissioner Jim Fonteno
2003   U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay
2004   Harris County Commissioner Sylvia R. Garcia
2005   President of UTMB-Galveston Dr. John Stobo
2006   Houston Mayor Bill White
2007   NASA Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin
2008   UHCL President Dr. William A. Staples
2009   Johnson Space Center Director Michael L. Coats
2010   Texas State Rep. Craig Eiland
2011   U. S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
2012   U. S. Sen. John Cornyn
2013   Griffin Partners, Inc. owner and Chairman Fred Griffin
2014   Dr. Renu Khator, Chancellor, University of Houston System, President, University of Houston
2015   Dr. Bill Merrell, George P. Mitchell ‘40 Chair in Marine Sciences, Texas A&M University at Galveston
2016    Dr. Greg Smith, Superintendent, Clear Creek Independent School District
2017    Texas State Sen. Larry Taylor

Time has come to get serious about protecting our region and the nation

October 1st, 2017

BAHEP President Bob Mitchell, at the podium, prepares to roll-out dynamic new storm surge protection video during a media event held Sept. 12 at Houston City Hall. Shown, from left are: Houston City Council Members Karla Cisneros, Dave Martin, David Robinson, Jack Christie, standing behind Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Mayor Pro-Tem Ellen R. Cohen. Next to Cohen are State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, State Rep. Dennis Paul, and Stephen C. Costello, City of Houston chief resilience officer and “flood czar.”

By Kathryn Paradis

Victor Hugo, a French writer famous for penning Les Misérables, among many other works, wrote, “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” Following the massive destruction of Hurricane Harvey, roughly estimated to have caused $150 billion in damages, it appears that the time has finally come to take storm surge protection for the upper Texas Gulf coast under serious consideration.

On Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, less than 24 hours shy of the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Ike, the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and the City of Houston rolled out the second in a series of videos produced to promote the critical need for a coastal spine system, an “Ike Dike” if you will, to protect the people, homes, businesses, industries and economies of the region, state, and nation.

The film, Unprepared – A Nation at Risk, produced by Space City Films and funded by the Bay Area Coastal Protection Alliance, takes a hard look at the consequences of Houston suffering a direct hit from a major hurricane.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, surrounded by members of city council and other stakeholders, led the media event by stating, “I don’t think there is a better time to have this conversation than right now. As we work diligently to get back on track after the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey, we are also keeping our eyes on the vital need for strong surge protection in our region.”

“It is very difficult,” he emphasized, “to have a conversation about rebuilding if we don’t have a serious conversation about mitigation … It needs to be a part of the rebuilding process.”

San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer says hello to Col. Len Waterworth, Texas A&M Galveston executive professor.

The mayor continued, “I think that Hurricane Harvey was a warning sign that we need to start talking, and, quite frankly, we need to start designing and building. There is no reason that in the package before Congress that they are considering that the coastal spine should not be fully funded.”

Mayor Turner then invited BAHEP President Bob Mitchell to address the media and others in the overflow crowd in the Legacy Room at Houston City Hall. BAHEP, in partnership with Texas A&M University at Galveston among many others, has been working since 2009 to gain support for a coastal spine system.

“We’ve actually been able to accomplish more in the last 10 months than we have in the previous seven years,” Mitchell told the crowd, pointing out that the accomplishments would not have been possible without the assistance of many people, notably Dr. Bill Merrell of Texas A&M Galveston, the “father” of the coastal spine concept. “Without his foresight and creativity, there is no way that we would be standing here today,” Mitchell said.

He invited everyone to watch the video, which spoke of Texas storms and their consequences, featured interviews with hurricane experts and elected officials, and outlined the potential financial impact on the nation of such storms and the aftermath of a major storm surge barreling up the Houston Ship Channel. The dynamic video can be viewed on YouTube at https://youtu.be/v_Ez1Xvkjqo.

It took 100 years, but Ellington has finally arrived

August 1st, 2017

By Mary Alys Cherry

Ellington International Airport came from rather humble beginnings, but you could say, with all honesty, this airport knows a thing or two about survival. It has survived an entire century of ups and downs.

At one time – after a fire – Ellington was nothing but a sea of grass and a couple concrete slabs. After helping our country fight five different wars, it was almost abandoned a time or two. Yet today business is booming and it is on the way to becoming one of the nation’s 10 spaceports as it celebrates its 100th anniversary. Most likely there will be no more ups and downs.

After Orville and Wilbur Wright ushered in the aviation era in December 1903 at Kitty Hawk, N.C., and the policy wonks in Washington finally realized that the airplane could be a good military tool, would be pilots began practicing on the land that eventually became Ellington Field.
In August 1914 war broke out in Europe and soon consumed the entire continent. Then in 1917, America entered the war. As the nation suddenly needed hundreds of pilots, it began building training fields all over the nation.

Ellington Field in 1918

One of these was about 25 miles south of Houston on some 1,280 acres the U.S. Government purchased because it offered weather conditions deemed necessary for flight training.

The Secretary of War announced that the new base would be named for Lt. Eric Lamar Ellington, a young army pilot who had been killed in a training flight four years earlier on Nov. 24, 1915 at the U.S. Army Signal Corps aviation training school near San Diego, Calif.

Construction began in September 1917 and most of the base was completed in two months. By December, a number of young aviators were transferred here, and planes were shipped in by rail. A few days after their arrival, the first planes at Ellington flew over Houston for a Red Cross benefit, according to a history on file at the Johnson Space Center: “A flight of ten JN-4s took off from grass runways and followed the interurban tracks stretching north . . . to Houston. Throngs of men, women, and children watched in amazement as the JN-4s flew overhead.”

Although work on the base was finished by December, Ellington had only 220 men stationed at the airfield and had such as shortage of skilled employees such as painters, cooks, mechanics and accountants that the War Department allowed officials to use what was called “direct enlistment” of men to fill the jobs.

Curtiss JN-4 Jennys at Ellington Field

In 1919, with World War I over, Ellington was deactivated as an active duty airfield with only a small caretaker unit assigned to the facility. With the return of peace, military training bases were considered unnecessary and the base became a practice facility for Army pilots stationed at Kelly Field in San Antonio to practice touch and go landings.

In May 1923, after the War Department first ordered the Ellington caretaker force to dismantle the base, it did an about face shortly thereafter, reactivating Ellington as a reserve base and authorizing the Texas National Guard to establish an aviation squadron there – which also provided Houston with an airfield and began a long relationship between the city and the Guard.

By 1927 the facilities at Ellington Field were obsolete and neither the Texas National Guard nor the War Department had the funds to renovate Ellington Field, so the Guard’s 111th Observation Squadron had to sign a long-term lease with the new Houston Municipal Airport – which we know today as Hobby Airport — and then moved into new facilities at the airfield.

By 1928, most of its buildings had been disassembled and Ellington was described as “a sea of tall prairie grass.” In February, a fire engulfed the entire airfield and all the remaining structures were consumed. All that remained were concrete foundations and a metal water tower so the War Department leased out the vacant land to local ranchers for pasture for the next dozen years, according to newspaper accounts.

Then in 1940, with much of the world involved in war, and the value of the airplane in winning battles quite obvious, the United States greatly increased its military and greatly needed trained pilots for its expanded Army Air Force.

Before long, Ellington Field was resurrected and Tellepson Construction Co. of Houston was busy constructing five control towers, two 45,000 square foot steel hangars in which to store aircraft, 160 buildings, including a 250-bed hospital for the new airfield, which also was getting six concrete runways to accommodate the larger military aircraft of the 40s that were later needed when America entered World War II.

As construction neared completion, several area garden clubs planted flowers, shrubs and trees on the base. Before long, more than 350 training aircraft were stationed at Ellington to provide for the U.S. Army Air Corps’ pilot training.

On Nov. 23, 1940, personnel from the 276th Quartermaster Company arrived in Houston to coordinate the opening of the base. Soon officers and enlisted personnel of other squadrons were transferred to Ellington Field to conduct flight training at the USAAC Advanced Flying School. Once pilots acquired flying proficiency, they received either a fighter or bomber assignment. Over the course of the war, thousands of young men got their flight training at Ellington.

After the war, in 1947, Houston officials discussed leasing or purchasing Ellington Field from the government, thinking the field could become a second airport. The USAAF offered Ellington to Houston for a dollar a year rent plus all maintenance costs. While city officials were tempted, they decided that rental fees from the National Guard and the U.S. Air Force Reserve were not enough to cover maintenance expenditures and declined.
Over the next few decades, Ellington AFB played a variety of roles as the United States participated in the Cold War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, most often training pilots and protecting the Gulf Coast.

In 1958, a special visitor arrived at Ellington — Mrs. Ellington-Hocutt, the sister of Eric Lamar Ellington. Since the opening of Ellington Air Force Base 40 years earlier, Air Force officials had never received a visit from a member of his immediate family. In 1959 Ellington Air Force Base shifted from an active duty base to an Air Force Reserve facility, and the number of personal dropped from 5,000 to around 200. With all Air Force flying squadrons transferred to other bases, only a small housekeeping unit remained at the base for administrative purposes. From then on, Air National Guard and USAF Reserve units conducted all flight operations at Ellington.

When NASA came to town in the early 1960s, Ellington became a “space base,” with the space agency using its facilities for astronaut training. As the home for all astronaut flight training, Ellington Air Force Base played a vital role in the success of the U.S. space program.

Then in 1976, Ellington Air Force Base was officially deactivated and all Air Force Reserve air squadrons were transferred to other USAF facilities with only a Air Force caretaker unit overseeing base maintenance. Texas Air National Guard flight operations, however, continue to this day.
In 1984 the city of Houston purchased Ellington Air Force Base to use as a third civil airport and renamed it Ellington Field, which went on to become part of the Houston Airport System and serve as a crossroads for all aspects of aviation in south Texas.

More name changes followed; in 2009 the Houston City Council approved the name Ellington Airport, going on to rename it Ellington International Airport in August 2011.

That was about the time Congress began closing down air bases around the country. But before they could shut Ellington down, business and community leaders took action, with the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership forming the Ellington Field Task Force and taking their fight to Washington, where U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas was more than happy to help them in their fight to save Ellington.

They also invited local branches of all military reserve units to move their offices from Old Spanish Trail to Ellington and form a joint reserve training base and allow Ellington to maintain its active status. They were more than happy to do so. The Coast Guard showed up big time, building a four-story $55 million regional headquarters at Ellington; the others soon followed.

The fighter jets may have flown away, but today Ellington has the rare distinction of not only being a joint reserve base that is home to all five branches of the U.S. Department of Defense — the Army, Navy and Marine Reserve units, Army and Air Force National Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard – but also NASA flight training operations, all on one base.

Then came news that Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston was moving its world class collection of World War II aircraft to Ellington to avoid possible hurricane damage and was building a $17 million structure here with plans to open in 2017.

“We went from having 1,500 (military personnel) at Ellington to zero to now more than 7,000,” John Martinec, president of the Ellington Field Task Force, told the Galveston Daily News. “I think everyone agrees that what we pulled together to keep the F-16s here was the catalyst for the strong military presence we have there now.”

In April 2014, the Sierra Nevada Corp. signed an agreement with Houston Airport System to explore development of Ellington as a commercial Spaceport, so as to use Ellington as a landing site for the company’s Dream Chaser space plane.

Then came the show stopper. In August 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration granted a spaceport launch site license to Ellington as America’s 10th spaceport.

FBI agent warns of cyber attack, sees it comes true two days later

June 1st, 2017

Dr. Greg Smith, left, BAHEP board chairman, greets FBI Computer Scientist James Morrison, who spoke to BAHEP members on the danger of cyber attacks.

By Mary Alys Cherry

Talk about uncanny timing.

FBI computer scientist James Morrison warned BAHEP members at their May 10 meeting that Texas businesses needed to prepare for possible cyber attacks, or sooner or later they might be a victim.

Two days later, corporate computer systems in some 60 countries were seized by cyber criminals in what is probably the biggest hack the world has ever seen.

To explain to Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership members of the dangers their computer networks face, he talked of Ransomware, a type of malware that encrypts data, locks out the computer user and offers to free up the system for a ransom.

“Seventy-five percent of cyber attacks are opportunistic, and most are financially motivated,” Morrison told the crowd at the Lakewood Yacht Club meeting.

As an example, he told how a hospital had been a victim, how all its files were confiscated including patients’ personal information such as Social Security numbers, birthdates, names and addresses, type of illness, how doctors were blocked from access to patient files, and how the hospital came to a standstill until it paid the hackers a ransom.

The hospital story he described as a warning came true in Great Britain in the May 12 attack, where its health system was greatly disrupted and reportedly a total of 36 hospitals were shut down.

“Corporate computer systems in many countries, including Fed Ex of the United States, one of the world’s leading international shippers, were among those affected,” The New York Times reported.

Other points Morrison made while urging businesses to protect their systems included:

  • 76 percent of cyber intrusions exploited weak or stolen credentials;
  • 63 percent of companies experienced a denial of service attack in the past 12 months;
  • 51 percent reported a loss of revenue.

Morrison, who has an extensive background working with the Cyber Crimes Task Force in the FBI’s Houston office, was introduced by Kim Morris, director of the Bay Area Houston Advanced Technology Consortium, after BAHEP Chairman Dr. Greg Smith welcomed the crowd.