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Monday PM April 13th, 2009

Deadline looms for port transportation worker credentials…Lundberg Survey finds gasoline ten cents higher in three weeks…Companies get repair contracts for Galveston; city launches new-look Web site…


Tomorrow is the deadline for obtaining and activating transportation worker identification credentials, or TWIC — affecting most workers at the Port of Houston. The Transportation Worker Identification Credential is to prevent unescorted access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime transportation system. Port of Houston Acting Chairman Wade Battles says the TWIC program was set up by the Department of Homeland Security.


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“To provide an identification credential so that workers could be put through a federal background check. It’s port employees, it’s longshoremen, it’s the company who’s delivering Frito-Lay potato chips to the cruise ship. A wide, wide variety of people.”

TWIC is a “smart” card, with the worker’s name, photo and biometric information. Currently more than 113,000 Houston-area workers have enrolled, but many more have yet to enroll in the program and activate their cards.

The White House says President Barack Obama is allowing Americans to make unlimited trips and money transfers to family in Cuba. It says Obama also is easing other restrictions. Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs made the announcement during his daily briefing with reporters. Gibbs says Obama is helping bridge the gap among divided Cuban families and fulfilling his campaign promises with the changes. It has been known for more than a week that he would announce them ahead of his attendance this weekend at a summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

The U.S. price of gasoline increased nearly ten cents a gallon during the past three weeks, but remains well below year-ago prices. That’s according to the national Lundberg Survey of fuel prices. Analyst Trilby Lundberg says the average U.S. price of regular grade gasoline was $2.05 a gallon Friday, when the survey was completed. That’s up from $1.95 a gallon recorded on March 20th, but down $1.27 from the price at this time last year. The lowest price for gasoline in the U.S. was found in Newark, New Jersey, at $1.83 a gallon. The highest was in Anchorage at $2.40. The lowest price in California was $2.30 a gallon in Stockton and the highest was $2.33 in San Diego. The average price in Los Angeles was $2.32.

Houston-based Kimrick Performance Group has been awarded a $2.3 million repair contract by the Galveston District Army Corps of Engineers, according to the Houston Business Journal. The company will make emergency repairs at the Texas City Historical Protection Structure, damaged when Hurricane Ike hit last September. A Florida-based firm will repair Ike-related damage to the Galveston Seawall in a $10.5 million contract. Repairs are expected to be completed before the start of this year’s hurricane season.

Web site, launching a new look today. The portal features interactive polls, site-wide searchability, forums and blogs. There are tourism-related rss feeds, member pages for local businesses and attractions, weather, webcams and video. Flash photo shows and calendars are built in, as well as news provided by a partnership with the The Galveston County Daily News. Reservations for lodging, cruises, parking and airport transfers are also included.

Cal Dive International has signed a contract for pipe laying in China, according to the Houston Business Journal. It’s a $32 million contract, and work begins in May.

Thousands of dollars in purchases have been made by identity thieves using the names and social security numbers of Irving Independent School District employees. The district’s security director says a 2000 report containing the names of 3,400 teachers and other employees somehow ended up in the trash. Pat Lamb told the Dallas Morning News that the district still doesn’t know how the records were compromised. At least 64 people have said they are identity theft victims. One woman has been accused of fraudulent use or possession of identifying information and two charges of credit card abuse.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has filed a lawsuit charging a South Carolina-based company with misrepresenting its ability to help consumers resolve unpaid tax obligations. The suit contends that JK Harris & Company provided misleading information about its employees’ expertise, overstated its ability to clear up debts to the Internal Revenue Service and accepted large upfront fees knowing it could not reduce customers’ tax liabilities. A spokesman for the North Charleston, South Carolina-based company did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Associated Press. JK Harris bills itself as the nation’s largest tax representation firm. Last June, the company agreed to pay $1.5 million in restitution and change its advertising under a settlement with attorneys general in 18 other states.

American Airlines is adding the first of 76 new Boeing jets to its fleet this week in a move that the carrier hopes will cut fuel and maintenance costs. The Boeing 737-800 aircraft will replace about one-fourth of American’s current aging fleet of McDonnell Douglas MD-80s, which have been the subject of several maintenance problems in the past year. American received the first two planes late last month. The airlines plan to put them into service carrying passengers tomorrow in Chicago. The planes are the newest generation of Boeing’s workhorse 737 series. American already has 77 Boeing 737s that it bought nearly a decade ago. They list for $72.5 million to $81 million. American officials said they paid less than sticker price, but wouldn’t say how much.

Circuit City is looking to sell its brand, trademarks and e-commerce business to Systemax, the same company that purchased CompUSA’s intellectual property in 2008. According to bankruptcy court filings, the Richmond-based company has entered into a so-called stalking horse agreement with Systemax for $6.5 million. A stalking-horse bid is an initial offer on a bankrupt company’s assets from an interested buyer chosen by the company. The agreement also includes payments of a scaled percentage of revenues coming from the site. Other companies should have an opportunity to bid on the assets, if a federal bankruptcy court judge grants a motion for a May 11th auction at a hearing Tuesday. Circuit City closed its remaining U.S. stores last month and has laid off about 34,000 workers since filing for bankruptcy protection in November.

Financially strapped Pilgrim’s Pride announced it will close a chicken processing plant in Dalton, Georgia, within 60 days. The unit of Pittsburg, Texas-based Pilgrim’s Pride employs 280 people. The work will be consolidated at a Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Pilgrim’s Pride in December filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and is in the process of reorganizing. The company’s hatchery in Cohutta, Georgia, will stay open but as part of the Chattanooga complex or other nearby operations. About 120 independent contract growers who supply to the Dalton plant will be transitioned to the Chattanooga plant or other nearby plants within about 90 days.

The U.S. Commerce Department has joined New York and Connecticut in opposing the construction of a floating liquefied natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound. U.S. Representative Tim Bishop says the announcement appears to be the final nail in the coffin for the project. The move bars the issuance of any federal permit for construction and operation. New York and Connecticut elected officials have opposed the $700 million terminal. The terminal would be the length of four football fields and about eight stories high. It would be located nine miles off Long Island and 11 miles from Connecticut. The Commerce Department says the project’s “adverse coastal impacts outweighed its national interest.” The companies behind the idea say they’re disappointed in the decision.

Texas continues to blow away the competition, but Iowa can now generate more wind power than California. Details are in an industry report being released by the American Wind Energy Association. The Lone Star State’s 7,118 megawatts dwarfs Iowa’s 2,791 megawatts and California’s 2,517 megawatts. But wind power has grown into a key part of the energy infrastructure in Minnesota and Iowa, where each state generates more than seven per cent of their electricity from turbines. States are trying to lure wind energy companies and the jobs that come with them, especially with new federal requirements that will require more power from alternative sources. The Associated Press reports U.S. wind farms had a combined capacity of 25,300 megawatts at the end of 2008.

The recession is forcing most Americans to cut back on spending, but for diabetics that could have dire consequences. The Associated Press has found diabetics are increasingly risking life and limb by cutting back on — or even going without — doctor visits, insulin, medicines and blood-sugar testing as they lose income and health insurance. Doctors have seen a drop in regular appointments with diabetic patients, as more seek tax-subsidized or charity care. And those patients ending up in emergency rooms more often. Also, the AP has found sales of top-selling diabetic drugs and other products have dropped since the economic crisis accelerated last fall. Diabetics who don’t closely monitor and control the chronic disease risk dire complications: amputations, vision loss, stroke—even death.

Recent rains across most of Texas the past week gave agricultural producers a glimmer of hope for greening pastures and soil wet enough for planting. In the past seven days, every part of the state except south Texas got some rain. Northeast Texas benefited the most, with some places receiving as much as two inches. The rains also helped hundreds of firefighters extinguish wind-whipped grassfires that have killed three people and scorched thousands of acres since igniting Thursday in counties along the Oklahoma border near Wichita Falls. A lot of fencing burned in the fires but the rain also brought life to parched pastures. Cattle producers’ losses to the ongoing drought — about 94 per cent of the state is in some stage of dryness — continue to mount with supplemental feed purchases or sales of cattle and calves in a declining market.