Cameron County has a history of working on public private partnerships on a number of infrastructure projects, so I thank you for the opportunity to come before you today to share our views from our perspective.

In our region we depend heavily on the ability to move traffic efficiently on a daily basis. We believe strongly in a program to allow for public private partnerships within the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, as well as the other federal agencies. We are always looking to take advantage of opportunities to improve our infrastructure and resources. I applaud the members of this committee for continuing to find ways to improve and authorize programs and objectives for the various agencies comprising DHS.

We all recognize that protecting the homeland is the number one national security priority. For us living on the border, it is a difficult balancing act when it comes to trade and security, well one that we know we had to contend with daily. Despite the challenges, improving the economic conditions is a fundamental priority for us. Cameron County owns and operates three international bridges. There is a private bridge and the Port of Brownsville port of entry. We also expanded our Veterans Bridge recently and not too long ago we inaugurated the first international rail bridge on the U.S.-Mexico border in over one hundred years. A true public private partnership between Cameron County and Union Pacific Rail.

I want to take a few minutes to talk about our county and some of the exciting things happening in South Texas. It is important to highlight these initiatives because they go hand in hand with what is being discussed today. First, I’d like to point out that we enjoy a great collaboration in communication with CBP as well as the Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies. Working together, we have been able to forge ahead despite all the rules and regulations post-9/11. Due to a level of enhancements and improvements along the border, and the special operations being conducted regularly, adequate staffing of Customs and Border Protection agents as well as other mission critical agencies such as the Department of Agriculture is essential.

For example, the ability for a port director to allocate and shift resources is a valuable tool in the daily operations affecting local bridge systems like ours. That is why we support programs that are being discussed here today. I applaud the members of our delegation, Representative Vela, Senator Cornyn, as well as members of this committee for providing us with another tool in the toolbox as we continue to improve and modernize our ports of entry. As we grow and strategically plan our future, it is imperative that we have a reassurance and a level of certainty that will allow us to consider as many options as possible when it comes to long-term staffing and infrastructure funding.

In South Texas we are getting ready to launch rockets and thousands of visitors will come to South Texas including those from Mexico. Our area airports will see their fair share of increased activity, and Customs and Border Protection is among the various agencies leading in the coordination efforts. Our Port of Brownsville, also considered the port of South Texas, is also working at deepening their channel to attract those PanaMex vessels, and there are at least three LNG permits before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Multibillion dollar investments that have the potential to increase the county’s valuation by more than 20 percent.

Given this economic growth potential, we need to be prepared and continue working with our federal partners to have a plan in place to have the other proper manpower and resources available. For us, we’d like to explore several possibilities at our bridges including the possibility of staffing at our bridges and working with G.S.A. and the Department of Agriculture at the Free Trade Bridge in Los Indios. In Mexico today shippers are pushing to get their fresh produce to market faster utilizing the Matamoros-to-Mazatlán highway. We need to ensure we have a discussion with CBP and USDA and how we maximize this to our full potential. Given our history of managing and operating international bridge systems, Cameron County is well positioned to find innovative ways to work with Customs and Border Protection and other DHS agencies to plan for the future.

Finally there is a border master plan that identifies future projects along the border. I would encourage both committee staff and agency officials to work together to plan proactively in this process. This will help us overcome the difficulties and challenges as new facilities come on line. Together we need to ensure there is a level of coordination from beginning to end in the development of these ports. As we all know, the amount of trade in terms of volume and value is in the billions and programs like this one need to be kept in place so viable options can be considered by local governments.

Editor’s Note: The above column is based on testimony given by Cameron County Administrator David Garcia at a hearing of the U.S. House Sub-Committee on Border and Maritime Security. The hearing focused on public-private partnerships at ports of entry.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this column shows the Free Trade Bridge at Los Indios in Cameron County.

Editor’s Note: Senior Reporter Joey Gomez assisted with this story.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column is the third in a three-part series on a hearing held by the U.S. House Sub-Committee on Border and Maritime Security to discuss public-private partnerships at ports of entry. Click here for Part One. Click here for Part Two.