Tuesday PM November 28th, 2006

Texas contracts with IBM to consolidate data security...Port of Houston Authority Commission terminates container terminal lease on Galveston Island to jointly develop new terminal on Pelican Island...

Texas announced a seven-year, $863 million contract with IBM to consolidate and enhance data security. The agreement clears the way for consolidating the information technology infrastructure at 27 state agencies. IBM in April will begin consolidating 31 data centers into two facilities in San Angelo and Austin and take responsibility for operating them. The deal is projected to save Texas $25 million in 2008 and 2009--and $159 million over the base contract period. The agreement calls for increased physical and information security, improved facilities and an expanded ability to prepare for and recover from a disaster. All affected state employees will be offered jobs from IBM or a subcontractor--with at least a five percent pay raise. Workers won't be required to move to another city.

Wal-Mart may be having problems, but by one measure, retail sales last week were up 2.6 percent from a year ago. The International Council of Shopping Centers says sales rose as the week proceeded with help from Black Friday promotions. The group's chief economist Michael Niemira says ''if the first few days of the holiday shopping season is any indication of the whole season, it should be merry for retailers and consumers alike.'' Niemira says sales for the entire month of November should be up about 2.5 percent from last year. Wal-Mart has said its November sales at stores open at least a year will likely have declined slightly, the first such drop in a decade.

Parks officials confirm the Texas State Railroad will keep running at least through August 31st. But the historic east Texas train's long-term future remains tied to parks funding to be resolved by the 2007 legislature. Supporters had worried the tourist train that runs between Palestine and Rusk could make its last trip December 30th. But the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Legislative Budget Board verified the department has an extra $2.2 million available for state parks. That includes a $1.2 million oil and gas lease bonus payment--a one-time, non-recurring source of revenue. A task force has been lobbying the state for $650,000 keep the train running until the legislature can vote on long-term operating funds. Lawmakers convene January 9th.

Indiana's Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposes $384,000 in fines for safety violations at BP's refinery in Whiting. The office cited BP for 14 violations earlier this year, including inadequate record-keeping and not correcting problems with relief-valve systems at the plant. BP says it has addressed more than half the violations and is working to resolve the rest.

The Port of Houston Authority Commission has voted to terminate its long-standing container terminal lease on Galveston Island. The two ports plan to jointly develop a new multi-million dollar container terminal on the southeast portion of Pelican Island. Six berths on 1,200 acres of land are planned, to go into operation between 2016 and 2021. The Port of Houston has been paying $1 million a year to Galveston to lease the container terminal at Pier 10 on the island's east end, but it's been empty since 2002. The commission also authorized bids between $9.7 million and $11.5 million for security access control systems in the North Turning Basin and East Industrial Park terminals and the Manchester and Care terminals. The bids are also for closed-circuit television surveillance at Care and Southside. Spending was also authorized to clear debris obstructing dredging of the cruise terminal turning basin. Money was also approved for landscaping at the Phase I facilities at the new Bayport Container Terminal.

Natural Resource Partners plans to acquire nearly 25,000 acres containing more than 80 million tons of coal reserves in remote Boone County in the southern West Virginia coal fields. The D.D. Shepard property also contains gas reserves and timber. NRP announced the $110 million cash deal Monday. The company says it expects the acquisition to close in early December. NRP says the current owner is a charitable organization. It says the property is expected to generate about $20 million in coal royalty reserves and more than $2 million in gas royalty and wheelage fees in 2007. Peabody energy leases the coal reserves and dominion exploration and production leases the gas reserves. Houston-based NRP has its operational headquarters in Huntington, West Virginia.

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