BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Texas’ Rio Grande Valley has one of the state’s highest unemployment rates and lowest per capita income but the Port of Brownsville could be the catalyst for the region’s future.

The deep-water port, located at the end of a 19-mile plus ship channel, provides huge commercial activity to the region thanks to its business ties with Mexico.

And if things go according to plan, the port could become a major hub for exports such as grain and steel to countries across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

In the words of its boss, the Port of Brownsville is not a thing for the Valley’s largest city but a regional undertaking that has been impacting the lives of thousands of people and the economies of the two countries due to its trade with its main customers south of the border.

Eduardo (Eddie) A. Campirano, the port’s director, said a number of big multi-million projects that have been planned for years are now coming into place.

Once completed, the port will be able to compete with their counterparts along the Gulf of Mexico and beyond in ways not seen before.

“The channel deepening project is the most import project at the port today,” he told the South Texas Manufactures Association during the group’s January 2023 meeting in McAllen. “I believe we are going to see some huge news coming soon in the very near future.”

He said deepening the channel from its existing 42 feet of depth to 52 feet is going to happen sooner than later.

A partnership with the private and public sectors is coming to fruition and will make the port better equipped to handle bigger commercial vessels and, subsequently, bigger cargoes.

The deepening project is a $400 million plus endeavor to be implemented in three phases.

Phase 1 is an undertaking by a private company called NextDecade – a Houston–based liquefied natural gas company that is planning the development of an LNG export terminal at the port.

The company is a leader in the LNG industry.

For its part, the port will spend thousands of dollars preparing the channel’s southern levee to dump the dredged materials.

Just recently, the PB Navigation District Board of Commissioners awarded a contract to another company – RLB Contracting Inc. of Port Lavaca  – for the project.

Ralph Cowen, a board member, said dredging the channel could start as soon as this summer.

He said the deposited materials will stay there for years and could be used for other projects.

Phase II is going to be a project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the port.

Campirano said this phase is a $108 million project in which the port will contribute to $43 million.

During his presentation to STMA, he said Mexico is the port’s number one partner, accounting for more than 80 percent of the commercial business handled there.

“We are the closest port to deep waters than anyone else,” he said, “and the safest port.”

He called the partnership with the private enterprise one of kind as all maritime projects in the United States are handled by the federal government.

“Usually, the typical activity is 85 percent government and 25 percent non-governmental,” he said. “We are reversing that trend.

Campirano said deepening the channel will take the port to a much higher level of commercial activity.

He said the biggest vessels are now bringing 55,000 tons of cargo like steel and will be able to increase that to 65,000 tons with a deeper channel.

“This is going to be great, not only for the port but for our customers,” he said. “This is going to sustain our capability to handle bigger cargoes.”

For Cowen, this will translate into jobs, jobs and more jobs for the area.

“I am really excited about it because it is going to change to port in a big way,” he said. “It will make the port a lot more competitive.”

Editor’s Note: The above news story is the first in a four-part series based on commentary made by Eduardo Campirano, port director for Brownsville Navigation District, at a recent South Texas Manufacturers Association meeting. Part Two will appear next week.

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