LAREDO, Texas – Tri-County Coalition members clarified that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed during a ceremony in February only represents the official statement about the idea of promoting the South Texas area.
While Webb County Judge Tano Tijerina wasn’t present in the public signing celebrated at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), he did sign the MOU at a previous meeting in December 2016, according to a copy of the document sent by his office.
Tijerina’s public information officer, Marah Mendez, Michael E. Gonzalez, director of the Small Business Development Center at TAMIU, and Rodney Rodríguez, economic development director at Laredo Community College (LCC), all told the Rio Grande Guardian that it is important not to confuse the goals and objectives of the Tri-County Coalition with a project that a private company has to construct a refinery in Duval County.
“We need to continue to delineate a line between our Coalition and the South Texas Energy Project (the refinery in Duval County),” Michael Gonzalez said. “While one company is trying to build a refinery, and get that project completed, the Coalition is here to provide unity among the region, the stakeholders, in support of business and economic development in the region.”
So far, the counties of Duval, Webb and Jim Hogg have set up the Tri-County Coalition. But, the organization is open for other counties to join.
“We are on the process of adding more counties to the Coalition, like Brooks County, Zapata County, and Jim Wells County,” said Humberto Gonzalez, the Jim Hogg County Judge.
Humberto Gonzalez and Michael Gonzalez are not related.
It was during an Eagle Ford Consortium Regional meeting celebrated on Feb. 28 at LCC that cracks became apparent in the support among Tri-County Coalition members for the refinery project.
While Tijerina is opposing the project right now, Humberto Gonzalez is in favor of it.
Tijerina expressed his opposition to the refinery in a previous interview with Rio Grande Guardian, but this week he said things could change.
“I had backed out of the refinery project, and I am not supporting it right now,” Tijerina said. “For about a year and a half I agreed with it but I am a little disappointed (with Raven Petroleum) because they have promised that they were going to have a marketing team, and give us all this information to educate us, and that hasn’t happened.”
He added: “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse.”
Tijerina said he needs answers on the environmental impact the refinery could have, especially when the Bruni High School campus is only about three and a half miles away from where the refinery is slated to be built.
“We are asking what are we going to build? If you tell me it’s a green, environmentally friendly (refinery), those are big answers to me,” Tijerina explained. “I am not saying that I won’t change my mind, or that you can’t change my mind. I am not saying ‘no’ for the refinery for sure, I am just saying at this particular point in time I just want to take the stand and I am against it.”
Tijerina added that he does understand the economic boost and economic power it could have for the local community.
“Economic impact? 100 percent I think it will work. I think it can have a huge effect. But, at whose expense? To me one life is priceless,” he concluded.
Humberto Gonzalez is in favor of the refinery. He said he understands the refinery will operate with geothermal energy power.
“This is the second project like this in the state of Texas and the first refinery,” Humberto Gonzalez said.
And on the subject of the refinery’s proximity to population centers, Humberto Gonzalez said the facility will be built in the middle of nowhere.
“It’s going to take a lot of wind and storm to bring those winds down,” Humberto Gonzalez said. “This is 40 years of research, because all the others refineries are at least 40 years old. This is the first refinery built in the U.S. in the past 40 years.”
Judge Gonzalez also said he’s more worry about 18-wheelers carrying chemicals and traveling through Hebbronville.
“That to me keeps more awake than anything else, because at any minute any of those (trucks) can turn over and all of the sudden you might have to evacuate Hebbronville,” he said.
Orlando Zepeda, chief officer for Facilities and the Oil & Gas Institute at LCC, has been working with Mobil Oil Company. It operates six refineries in the United States. Zepeda said that the company has never had any major upsets.
“Refineries, which are many times in major centers, basically coexist with the communities because they do operate with people that are part of the community,” Zepeda said. “That’s my experience and for what I have heard this refinery will be state of the art, but I haven’t seen any of the floor plans.”
Michael Gonzalez added that the Tri-County Coalition has been working together to support businesses and economic development. He said this will be very positive.
“I think that working together we can help to fortify our region and continue to grow as a coalition because that’s going to lead us to the best results for South Texas and our region,” Michael Gonzalez said.