Welcome to Fire Island

While communities across the country block LNG terminals, Quintana just shrugs

Not so, according to Quintana leaders. Then-mayor Debbie Alongis wrote TxDOT at the time that residents were opposed. They accepted the inconvenience as a fact of island life, Alongis wrote, and they believed a bigger bridge could attract crime to their town.

Despite those views, TxDOT quietly tried to drum up support for a new bridge. According to internal e-mails and memos obtained by the Press, the department also manipulated data to enable the bridge to qualify for funding.

TxDOT rates proposals under an established formula that factors in traffic demands on a bridge and its level of deterioration. Typically, only bridges that score 70 or higher on TxDOT's formula get federal funds, according to memos.

Greg Upton says the terminal will be “a great thing” as 
long as it’s “done right.”
Daniel Kramer
Greg Upton says the terminal will be “a great thing” as long as it’s “done right.”
Roger and Teresa Cornelison relax on their deck -- but 
they worry about the future.
Roger and Teresa Cornelison relax on their deck -- but they worry about the future.

In May 1997, a TxDOT worker e-mailed that Quintana's bridge scored a 50. Project engineer David Kopp promptly told him to "try to run a new score." Kopp's e-mail to him stated, "This is another bridge that the district is applying a lot of pressure to have replaced."

Within the week, another TxDOT inspection of the bridge increased its score to 62. By August, it had jumped to 69, with no apparent explanation. (After the Press examined TxDOT records, Gbur didn't return repeated calls for comment.)

Meanwhile, TxDOT staffers worked to create the support that Gbur says they weren't looking for. Kopp e-mailed TxDOT engineer Larry Heckathorn about getting the backing of local officials. "This support can't look like it has been solicited," Kopp cautioned.

Heckathorn wrote that a Dow executive had recently approached him, and he could talk to others, too. Kopp assented: "It appears that we will need this type of support as additional ammo for our gun." Soon letters arrived from Dow, the county commissioners, the Brazoria County Chamber of Commerce and Port Freeport, the port authority in Freeport.

The state granted the $10.7 million, much of it in federal funds, for the bridge.

And it decided to build big. TxDOT originally put the bridge's daily traffic count at 1,450 vehicles, with one engineer noting that Quintana had little growth potential. Three months later, plans were bumped up to a projected 2,900 daily vehicles, adding $1 million to the cost. In the end, the bridge was built for a load of 3,700 vehicles.

After all, Quintana did have growth possibilities. When community opposition stalled the project in the summer of 2000, Port Freeport director A.J. Reixach wrote TxDOT that port-owned land in Quintana was attracting interest from two companies, "one involved in offshore gas production." Without the bridge, construction equipment couldn't get to the island.

Reixach says he can't remember if he was referring to an LNG terminal. Reimer says his company didn't start negotiations until January 2001.

Regardless, by the time bridge construction started that winter, Port Freeport was in hot negotiations with an influential group exploring sites for an LNG terminal. And Dow, so active in pushing for the bridge, eventually signed on as the first major client for that terminal.

Once the state government had provided the critical infrastructure of the bridge, the stage was set for a high-stakes, well-connected entrepreneur.

Syrian-born businessman Jamal Daniel has started nearly a dozen companies. His $3.3 million mansion off Memorial Drive hosts the occasional charity bash, earning ink in Shelby Hodge's Houston Chronicle society column. He's said to be friends with the rulers of Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

But he's mostly famous for being a friend of the Bushes. Daniel, 45, is on a first-name basis with George H.W. Bush. He's particularly close to first brother Neil Bush. When Neil's daughter, Elite model Lauren Bush, made her debut in Paris, Daniel was there. When Neil married his second wife in March, Daniel hosted the wedding.

When Neil and his ex-wife, Sharon, wanted a Maine retreat near the family pad in Kennebunkport, Daniel bought it for the couple for $380,000, according to Vanity Fair. And, as Neil revealed in his divorce deposition, he's a co-chairman of Daniel's company, Crest Investment, which pays him $60,000 a year to offer Daniel advice.

Daniel himself is adviser to a new firm that started out of the suite of Crest Investment, hoping to win contracts for rebuilding Iraq. The CEO is a Crest vice president; the chairman is Joe Allbaugh, a presidential confidant who headed the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Daniel did not return calls for comment.

Various profiles credit Daniel with managing extensive family assets, with expertise in big real estate and energy deals. LNG seemed to be a perfect fit.

By April 2000, as the Quintana bridge project was under review, Daniel and his father were in active discussions with Cheniere, a Houston-based exploration and development company about to invest heavily in LNG. In February 2001, Cheniere and the Daniels discussed specific terminal sites, including the Quintana acreage owned by Port Freeport.

Daniel and his partners told Cheniere they needed more time to decide how much they wanted to invest in the venture. But, according to a lawsuit Cheniere would file in Harris County District Court, Daniel's group instead started negotiating on its own with Port Freeport.

Then, while Cheniere was still waiting for Daniel to make up his mind, the port announced it had signed a lease -- with Daniel and his new company, Crest Energy. Cheniere filed a lawsuit against Crest. When the two companies settled in June 2001, their agreement made Crest a "strategic partner" in the Quintana project and provided it with 500,000 shares of Cheniere stock. It gets another 750,000 when the terminal receives an operating permit.

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