Thursday October 28th, 2005

FEMA cuts funding for hurricane debris removal...400 potential jurors receiving questionnaires in advance of Enron trial...Tanox asthma drug Xolair receives European approval...

Some county officials in Southeast Texas are unhappy that FEMA will limit reimbursements for cleanup costs from Hurricane Rita to 75 percent. Rita came ashore September 24th near Sabine Pass--flooding some communities, downing trees and interrupting electricity for tens of thousands of people. The Federal Emergency Management Agency yesterday cut funding for debris removal and other emergency costs for Texas counties. That leaves local governments responsible for the remaining 25 percent. Congressman Ted Poe says FEMA handed Jefferson County another blow and he's going to appeal. Poe met yesterday with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chernoff. Jefferson County Judge Carl Griffith says cleanup will continue, but the county will give the responsibility of hiring most contract crews to the Army Corps of Engineers.


Four hundred potential jurors will receive questionnaires next month to gauge whether they could fairly decide the fate of Enron founder Kenneth Lay and former CEO Jeffrey Skilling. Both are bound for trial in January on charges including conspiracy and fraud. U. S. District Judge Sim Lake said today that the questionnaires will help prosecutors and defense attorneys weed out bias among potential jurors. It will also help whittle the pool to at least 100 to appear for jury selection January 17th. The trial is expected to last four to six months. Skilling and the third defendant in the case, former top Enron accountant Richard Causey, face more than 30 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and others stemming from alleged schemes to fool investors into believing Enron was healthy and prosperous before it crashed. Lay faces seven counts of fraud and conspiracy for allegedly perpetuating the ruse after Skilling resigned in August 2001. All three have pleaded innocent.


The Tanox asthma drug Xolair has received approval in Europe. It was developed under an agreement between Houston-based Tanox, Genentech and Novartis Pharma. Xolair is the first biotech treatment for asthma and Tanox's first commercialized product. The U. S. Food and Drug Administration approved Xolair in June 2003.


Houston's industrial market registered nearly 1.5 million square feet of positive net absorption in the third quarter, according to Grubb & Ellis. Houston's industrial vacancy declined to its lowest level in six years, due to increased demand and a restraint on new construction. The report says the Port of Houston's expansion project will accommodate increased container activity. The port has seen an upswing in shipments of various goods coming across its docks.


Continental Airlines says it continues evacuating stranded tourists from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. All Continental passengers have been evacuated from Cozumel, and nearly 500 tourists were evacuated on three flights from Cancun yesterday. Flights are being limited due to reduced air traffic control and airport capacity.

Continental is launching daily non-stop flights between its New York hub at Newark Liberty International Airport and Cologne, Germany starting May 10th, 2006. This will be the first scheduled service between the United States and Cologne since 1990.


More than $3 million has been donated to the Texas Disaster Relief Fund, to be distributed in the 22 counties included in the federal disaster declaration from Hurricane Rita. Governor Rick Perry says traditional disaster recovery programs often cannot meet all the needs of individuals, especially the elderly and residents with disabilities and minorities and rural residents. Perry says unmet needs include purchasing building materials; replacing furnishings, clothing and medicines; repairing damaged vehicles; covering costs of re-locating to a home; and obtaining crisis counseling or disaster mental health services.


A businessman temporarily displaced to Houston by Hurricane Katrina has told lawmakers that Louisiana needs a sound levee system. Richard Bachmann also is calling for tax relief for businesses and an improved education system to lure companies back to New Orleans. But the legislative committee gave the ideas offered by Bachmann, who's the founder and CEO of Energy Partners, mixed reviews. Louisiana lawmakers say they want businesses back, but that they faced crippling budget shortfalls that could hinder attempts to make wholesale tax changes quickly. Bachmann and 47 other business leaders forced to Houston by the hurricane met with a half dozen state lawmakers earlier this month to outline their concerns on returning to New Orleans. Bachmann said Louisiana should offer more tax incentives.


Texas Instruments and five other telecom equipment makers have filed antitrust complaints with European regulators against Qualcomm. TI and the other companies say San Diego-based Qualcomm was making it harder for rival mobile phone chipmakers to compete. The manufacturers claim Qualcomm was refusing to license essential patents on fair terms for the latest cell phone technology. The companies also allege Qualcomm was charging "excessive and disproportionate'' royalties. They want the European Commission to investigate and stop the wireless technology company's alleged abuse of EU competition rules. The European office of Qualcomm had no immediate comment on the complaints.


The Greater Houston Partnership hosted a luncheon today to discuss the technology infrastructure needs for Houston. The Technology Infrastructure Task Force notes that Houston is behind in wireless data and mobile phone-based Internet access. The task force has developed a plan to build a technology region with life-enhancing uses that are vital to improving health, education, economic development, transportation and public safety within a safe, secure framework.


Underwriters for Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings today set the terms of the company's pending initial public offering. It's putting the value at around $735 million, more than twice as much had previously been estimated. Clear Channel Outdoor is a unit of media company Clear Channel Communications. The San Antonio-based unit sells advertising on billboards, street furniture and other displays. Clear Channel Outdoor said it will use net proceeds from the IPO to repay a portion of the debt owed to Clear Channel Communications.


Houston-based Frontera Resources has awarded a contract to TuHa Petroleum Exploration and Development to provide a drilling rig in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. TuHa is a unit of China National Petroleum Corporation. Frontera has operated in Georgia since 1997. Georgia is in Southwestern Asia, bordering the Black Sea, between Turkey and Russia.


Sterling Construction has won a $5.5 contract for the City of Conroe for road paving, bridge work and the building of underground utilities. Work begins in January 2006, according to the Houston Business Journal. Sterling specializes in municipal and state highway contracts for paving, bridge, water and sewer and light rail projects.


Houston-based Yancey-Hausman is constructing a new 155,000-square-foot office building for FSP Park 10 in the Park 10 Regional Business Center, according to the Houston Business Journal. Phase II of The Offices at Park 10 will be a six-story building, mirroring its first facility in the West Houston complex. Construction begins in November, and is slated for completion by August 2006.


The former CEO of Seitel has been sentenced to more than five years in federal prison. Paul Frame, Jr., was convicted in April of cheating the Houston-based company out of $750,000 that he used to settle a civil lawsuit filed by his former fianc?e. The 59-year-old made a tearful plea for leniency in court. He claimed that he turned to Christianity and was treated for alcoholism while in custody awaiting sentencing. The judge sentenced Frame to five years and three months in prison. He also ordered the former executive to pay $750,000 in restitution to the seismic data company. Prosecutors said they were pleased with the sentencing. Defense lawyers say they plan to appeal. The executive once owned a lavish home and was paid $400,000 a month. But his attorneys say he's now broke. The civil suit against Frame alleged that he took back $1 million in gifts he had given to his former fianc?e. Some of the gifts were returned as part of the settlement.


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