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Friday AM August 25th, 2006

Houston preservationists to ask Weingerten Realty to request renovation of River Oaks Shopping Center…MMS issues safety alert to Gulf offshore operators over fatality statistics…Halliburton hired for Alaskan North Slope drilling project… Houston preservationists have taken the first stop toward saving the River Oaks Shopping Center from the wrecking ball. The Archaeological and Historial Commission of […]

Houston preservationists to ask Weingerten Realty to request renovation of River Oaks Shopping Center…MMS issues safety alert to Gulf offshore operators over fatality statistics…Halliburton hired for Alaskan North Slope drilling project…

Houston preservationists have taken the first stop toward saving the River Oaks Shopping Center from the wrecking ball. The Archaeological and Historial Commission of Houston is sending a letter to the property owner, Weingarten Realty, requesting they renovate the property and not tear it down. Preservationists are concerned Weingarten will raze the historic structure and develop a new multi-use property. The commission says the letter to the property owner reflects the views of the community and it also offers economic incentives, such as city property tax exemptions, that would help make the current structures more viable. Weingarten Realty has said any future plans for the property have not been determined.

The U.S. Minerals Management Service has issued a safety alert to Gulf of Mexico offshore operators because of concern about the number of fatalities this year. There have been five deaths so far in 2006 from incidents under the agency’s jurisdiction, and two others occurred in the area supervised by the U.S. Coast Guard. The deaths from platform and oil rig accidents and from pipe-laying and diving mishaps already exceed those of previous two years. MMS supervises hydrocarbon production in federal waters.

Halliburton’s Energy Services Group has been hired by Dallas-based Pioneer Natural Resources for drilling, cementing, mud logging and cuttings injection services for a project in Alaska, according to the Houston Business Journal. The operator is drilling 39 horizontal wells on a man-made gravel island constructed this past winter about six miles off the coast of Alaska’s North Slope. The three-year project begins late this year when ice roads to the island will allow the staging of equipment, materials and services. Drilling operations are set to begin next summer.

Japanese regulators are telling Round Rock-based computer maker Dell Computer and Sony to probe the problems with overheating laptop batteries. Japan’s trade ministry is citing two instances within its borders where the batteries caught fire. The ministry tells the companies to investigate the safety of Dell models with the Latitude, Inspiron and Precision names and report back by the end of the month. Problems with the batteries, made by Sony, prompted Dell to recall more than four million laptop batteries earlier this month.

Apple Computer is issuing its own big recall of laptop computer batteries. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says Apple plans to recall 1.1 million batteries in the United States, plus 700,000 sold abroad. A spokesman for the agency says it’s the second-largest recall ever in the computer and consumer electronics sectors. The recall affects lithium-ion batteries, which have been linked to reports of overheating and fires. The batteries were designed for Apple I-Book G4 and Powerbook G4 models purchased between October 2003 and August of this year.

Dell has pulled the plug on its D.J. Ditty music players. The move comes less than one year after the Round Rock-based computer maker launched the device to compete with Apple’s I-Pod Shuffle. Dell stopped selling the Ditty on August 17th. A spokesman declined to characterize the decision as Dell bowing out in the face of competition from market leader Apple, but said the company is trying to focus on its core areas. Those include PCs, printers and flat-panel televisions. Dell unveiled the Ditty last September as a better value than the shuffle. Both devices store music on flash memory chips.

Some 7,000 families in Texas who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina risk becoming homeless next week. For the past year, the families have been receiving rental assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But the FEMA program that provides them that benefit will end August 31st. Evacuees could lose the housing aid unless they meet the criteria for a new program. FEMA says many have yet to submit the required paperwork. It asks them to provide their Louisiana address, identification and income to qualify for the other housing program. A team from FEMA recently distributed information packets to apartment complexes throughout Houston. But the information packets weren’t distributed in San Antonio or other cities. Evacuees participating in FEMA’s individual assistance housing program have until October 31st to file their paperwork or risk losing their rental assistance.

Houston-based Intrepid Holdings will open its Health Access medical clinics in Wal-Mart Supercenters in Texas starting in the third quarter. More clinics will roll out in other markets later. The clinics will offer health care for non-threatening conditions, providing pharmacy, clinic and related basic and preventative health care services.

China Border has paid $714,648 in back wages to 213 current and former wait and bus staff, hostesses, cashiers , dishwashers and cooks, after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Headquartered in Houston, China border also operates restaurants in Beaumont, Texas City, Galveston. The government found that the company had failed to properly pay overtime wages.

The Labor Department reports there wasn’t much change in the number of Americans filing first-time claims for jobless benefits over the past week. The total number of first-time claims is put at 313,000, marking a decline of 1,000. The four-week moving average surged by 3,500 to more than 315,000. Some economists say that economic growth has been cooling in the face of rising interest rates and high energy prices. The Labor Department said the unemployment rate in July moved up to 4.8 percent.

Interest rates are lower. Freddie Mac says 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 6.48 percent this week–down from last week’s average of 6.52 percent. It’s the lowest level since early April, when rates averaged 6.43 percent. The average for the 15-year mortgage, often used in refinancings, dropped to 6.18 percent from 6.2 percent from last week. Freddie Mac Vice President and Chief Economist Frank Nothaft says the perception by some that the Federal Reserve may stop raising short-term interest rates over the near term is taking upward pressure off mortgage rates.

Fannie Mae says it has been informed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington that it will not face criminal charges over accounting irregularities. The government-sponsored mortgage lending giant says the investigation is being dropped after two years.

The government says the slowdown in the housing market last month extended to new homes. The Commerce Department says July sales dropped 4.3 percent. That’s close to the size of the decline reported yesterday in the larger portion of the market, covering previously-owned homes. It is the largest decline in new home sales since February. The inventory of unsold homes rose to a new record. Sales of both new and existing homes had risen for five straight years before slowing in recent months. Analysts say rising interest rates have put the brakes on the housing boom.

After a nice gain the month before, durable goods orders dropped 2.4 percent in July. The Commerce Department says the decline largely reflects weakness in transportation orders, and specifically aircraft. Demand was also lower for cars. The decline in durable goods orders follows two straight monthly increases. Analysts were looking for the number to be unchanged. The report covers items expected to last at least three years.

Commercial banks and savings institutions insured by the FDIC had a great second quarter. They’re reporting profits totaling $38.1 billion for the second three months of the year–topping the previous quarterly earnings record of $36.9 billion set in the first quarter. It’s the fifth time in the last six quarters that the industry has reported record quarterly earnings. FDIC officials say strong commercial and consumer loan demand produced an increase in net interest income, outweighing the effects of rising interest rates.

A joint venture between subsidiaries of Houston-based CenterPoint Energy and Duke Energy Gas Transmission has a customer for its proposed Southeast Supply Header natural gas pipeline. Florida Power & Light will subscribe to about half of the planned capacity for the 270-mile pipeline, which is expected to be in service by June 2008. The 36-inch line will originate from northeast Louisiana, accessing several pipelines serving the eastern U.S., with access to several storage facilities.

Houston-based Marathon Oil and its partners have hired Bechtel Group to design and engineer a possible second production line at a liquified natural gas project in Equatorial Guinea. The design work is to be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2007, and a decision will follow on whether to construct the line.

U.S. Bank Commercial Real Estate has opened a new office in the West Loop/Galleria area, according to the Houston Business Journal. This is U.S. Bank’s 31 U.S. office. The Minneapolis-based company provides construction, acquisition, renovation, mezzanine and permanent financing to commercial real estate developers and investors.

The Houston chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators named J. William Boyar its 2006 Executive Communicator of the Year last night in a ceremony at Champions Pavilion in Minute Maid Park. Boyar is chairman of the Boyar & Miller law firm. The IABC says Boyar and his firm take a “holistic” approach to communications, in an open, interactive style that keeps people connected and informed, whether inside or outside the firm, between lawyers, clients or clients and lawyers.

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