Thursday PM August 31st, 2006

FEMA ends emergency sheltering and interim housing program for most hurricane evacuee recipients...Houston City Council commission urges Weingarten Realty to not demolish River Oaks buildings...TXU to seek approval of new nuclear-fueled power plants at one to three sites...

The Federal Emergency Management Agency ends its emergency sheltering and interim housing program for most recipients today. About 107,000 households are in FEMA's individual assistance rental program and thousands of others have been converted to the program from the interim housing programs operated by public housing agencies. Less than 3,000 households statewide will have been unable to prove to FEMA that they are eligible for FEMA's programs. Those ineligible for FEMA programs can still seek help from voluntary agencies and faith-based organizations.


The 11-member Archaeological and Historical Commission advising the Houston City Council has unanimously approved a letter to Weingarten Realty Investors urging the company not to raze the River Oaks Theatre, the former Alabama Theatre and segments of the River Oaks Shopping Center. Demolition of the first building—the shopping center structure at Shepherd and West Gray—was expected to begin after Christmas, according to the Houston Chronicle. Meanwhile, Weingarten Realty sent a letter to all merchants at the shopping center stating that the company remains committed to the center and will continue to invest in the property. The company acknowledged "inaccurate media reports" may have cast an air of uncertainty regarding its long-term commitment to the center. The letter says Weingarten is "considering many options that will respect the key architectural elements and enhance the unique retail tenant mix." The addition of a key retail anchor is being considered, but it will not be located in the River Oaks Theatre block. Weingarten is considering the redevelopment on the north side of West Gray in the area now occupied by Jos. A. Banks.


More nuclear-generated electric power could be in the long-term future of TXU customers. The Dallas-based utility holding company announced today that it plans to ask federal regulators to approve licenses for new nuclear-fueled power plants at one to three sites. TXU says it expects to apply for construction and operating licenses from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2008. It says it hopes to bring the new generators on line between 2015 and 2020. The plan is to add two to six gigawatts of nuclear-fueled generating capacity to the nine gigawatts of proposed coal-fueled generating capacity TXU already has announced. Together, they'd almost double TXU's present 18 gigawatts of generating capacity. The plan includes the proposed doubling of the electricity generating capacity at TXU's only nuclear-fueled power plant at Comanche Peak near Granbury. It now has a generating capacity of more than two gigawatts. TXU is also reviewing a list compiled over 30 years of potential new sites for nuclear plants. TXU says it's already had preliminary talks with the Lower Colorado River Authority and San Antonio's municipally owned CPS Energy about partnerships.

TXU plans to build 11 coal-fired plants at nine existing sites—a $10 billion investment. The plan is opposed by public advocacy groups, but TXU says community leaders, elected officials and residents near the proposed locations are expressing their support. According to the Dallas-based utility, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas warns that without new power generation the state's power reserves could drop below reliable levels by 2008.


Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has gotten his first look at BP Alaska's pipeline corrosion that shut down about half the North Slope oil production. Meantime, one of the company's senior executives says a way might be found to return to full oil production before having to replace 16 miles of pipes. David Peattie, a BP vice president, says the company hopes to begin constructing the new pipeline system early next year and complete it in several months. But he says full production, to 400,000 barrels a day, might resume earlier. The western leg of the pipeline system has resumed production by bypassing the damaged pipes. Peattie, who accompanied Kempthorne, says a similar bypass strategy could result in production returning to normal in the eastern leg. He also says the company is looking at patching corroded sections.


The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission will not take action against the former Royal Dutch Shell executive over an oil reserves overbooking scandal. A Chicago law firm says the SEC concluded that no action should be taken against Philip Watts, the former chairman of Shell's committee of managing directors, after conducting a two-year joint investigation with Great Britain's Financial Services Authority. Watts and other senior managers left the company after it admitted in 2004 that it had been overstating the size of its oil and gas reserves for years.


Chicago-based Boeing is laying off 120 workers at its Port San Antonio plant at San Antonio's former Kelly Air Force Base. The 50 Boeing employees and 70 contractors have been given notices of the layoffs. They take effect at the end of October as work on two projects concludes. Most of the contractors being laid off are mechanics, while the Boeing employees include management, quality control and material handling workers. The projects involve work on specific planes, and new ones won't be arriving until next year. More than 1,500 workers will remain at the facility after the layoffs, which are unrelated to two air force contracts Boeing is competing to renew.


The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits dipped last week. The Labor Department reports a decline of 2,000 new claims, bringing the total number of first-time jobless claims to 316,000. The four-week moving average has increased by 1,000 to 317,500. The government will report on unemployment for august tomorrow, with many economists expecting that the economy created a modest 125,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate is expected to dip slightly from a five-month high of 4.8 percent hit in July down to 4.7 percent.


Online job recruiting bounced back in August following a seasonal decline last month. Monster Worldwide says its employment index climbed eight points, with seven out of nine regions showing stronger levels of recruitment. There was increased demand for workers in retail trade and in the education, training and library occupations, all of which declined in July. At the same time, the hiring environment for white-collar professionals remained solid with continued heavy recruiting in business and financial operations and IT-related occupations. While the Monster Employment Index is 22-percent higher than it was a year ago, the year-over-year increase is the lowest since its inception. Monster's Steve Pogorzelski says that suggests a more moderate rate of economic growth, due partly to rising energy prices and a cooling housing market.


The Texas Business Hall of Fame Foundation will present $7,500 scholarships to 15 students from around Texas on October 26th at the Hilton Americas-Downtown. The foundation honors members of the state's business community, and this year is honoring 15 graduate students working towards their master's degrees in business administration at Texas colleges and universities. The foundation has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to students pursuing a business education.


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