Governor Abbott Names Temporary Executive Director and Appoints Six to Gulf Coast Protection District Board of Directors

Published 3:10 pm Tuesday, June 22, 2021

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AUSTIN – Governor Greg Abbott has appointed Sally Bakko, Michel Bechel, Roger Guenther, Robert D. “Bob” Mitchell, Lori J. Traweek, and Michael VanDerSnick to the Gulf Coast Protection District (GCPD) Board of Directors for terms set to expire on June 16, 2025. Additionally, the Governor named Nicole Sunstrum as the temporary Executive Director.

The Gulf Coast Protection District (GCPD) was created by the legislature to operate and leverage funding to build the unique flood control and surge protection needs for coastal communities. When completed, the Coastal Texas study will be the largest civil works project in US history. Like the seawall before it, this system will protect our state and national economy and millions of Texans for generations to come. Texas ports handle 65 percent of all US cargo and produce the largest volume of military jet and diesel fuel.  The creation of this District provides opportunity to leverage almost $30 billion federal dollars to protect the ports of Beaumont, Harris County and Galveston from storm surges.

The legislation establishing the GCPD was championed by Senator Larry Taylor and Representative Dennis Paul. This District meets the US Army Corps of Engineers requirements for funding, leveraging almost $30B federal dollars and will operate and maintain these projects.  The Port of Beaumont handles more military cargo movement than any other port in the US. The GCPD region also produces 60% of the nation’s aviation fuel, 42% of the nation’s specialty chemical feedstock, and 80% of the nation’s military grade fuel.

“Strengthening our coastal regions and ports is vital not only to Texas, but to the entire nation,” said Governor Abbott. “This project will go down in history as one of the most significant measures to protect Coastal Texas, its citizens and the economic activities this region provides.”

Sally Bakko of League City is the Director of Policy and Government Relations for the City of Galveston. She previously served as a Senior Policy Analyst for the Harris County Commissioner’s Court Analyst’s Office and as the Legislative Coordinator for the City of Galveston Attorney Office. Bakko received a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Mount Vernon College at George Washington University, a Master of Business Administration and Public Administration from the University of Phoenix, and a Paralegal Certificate of Completion from the Center for Advanced Legal Studies.

Michel Bechtel of Morgan’s Point is President of Bechtel Exploration Company, and currently serves as the Mayor of the City of Morgan’s Point and serves on the Board of Board of Pilot Commissioners for the Ports of Harris County. He is a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists and the New Orleans Geological Society. He is a member and past president of the Harris County Mayors and Council Association and a board member of the Bay Area Coastal Protection Alliance, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, and the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region. Additionally, he is a member of the Chambers County Mayors Coalition and Port of Houston Commissioners Community Advisory Council. Bechtel received a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology and Geophysics from Louisiana State University in New Orleans and a Master of Science degree in Petroleum Geology from the University of New Orleans.

Roger Guenther of Galveston is the Executive Director of the Port of Houston Authority and has served in various positions with the Port of Houston over the past 33 years. He is a board member of the National Association of Waterfront Employers and an executive board member of the Texas A&M University at Galveston Board of Visitors. Guenther received a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Texas A&M University and a Master of Business Administration from St. Thomas University.

Bob Mitchell of Pearland is President of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and has served in various positions with the partnership for over 20 years. He also serves on numerous boards including the HCA Houston Clear Lake, University of Texas Medical Branch Health System Advisory Board. Additionally, he serves on the boards of the Manned Spaceflight Education Foundation, Inc., HCA Gulf Coast Regional Advisory Board, Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Board of Advisors, and Gulf Coast Limestone, Inc. Additionally, he is an appointee to the Aerospace and Aviation Advisory Committee.

Lori Traweek of Seabook is retired as the CEO and General Manager of the Gulf Coast Authority, having served over 27 years. She is a member of the Texas Water Conservation Association, member and past chair of the Galveston Bay Estuary Program, and a stakeholder council member of the San Jacinto Galveston Basin and Bay Area Stakeholder Committee. She is a former member of the Water Environment Association of Texas and the Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council and a former board member of the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region. Additionally, she is president of the Texas Conservation Fund Trash Bash and a board member of Texas Water Trade. Traweek received a Bachelor of Science in Aquatic and Marine Biology from the University of Southwestern Louisiana.

Michael VanDerSnick of Houston is Senior Vice President of Americas Manufacturing for LyondellBasell. He previously served as Senior Vice President of Health, Safety, Environment and Security, and he served as Senior Vice President of Manufacturing for the company’s Europe, Asia, and International regions. He is a board member of the Texas Chemical Council, former board member of the East Harris County Manufacturers Association, and former member of the American Chemistry Council Responsible Care Committee. VanDerSnick received a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of Illinois.

Nicole Sunstrum of Austin has served in the Texas Legislature for over fifteen years in a variety of roles in both chambers.  She is a mentor with the University of Texas Alumni Mentoring Program.  Previously she served as vice president of the Texas Water Foundation Young Professionals Board and as a commissioner on the Austin Urban Renewal Board. Sunstrum earned a Bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Texas and a Master’s degree in public administration from Texas State University.