Good morning and welcome everyone. 

Thank you, Eddie for the kind introduction. And thank all of you for joining us at our first State of the Port Address since 2019. Your continued interest and support of the Port of Brownsville makes all the difference.

Despite the challenges of the last two years, the Port of Brownsville remains strong and focused on its mission. We have not only remained open for business, but we have also grown.

I’m pleased to announce today, that the port has again set new tonnage records while recording robust operating revenue numbers. While these statistics are unofficial and subject to the final annual audit, we are confident of the progress we’ve made.

Our total operating revenues for Fiscal Year 2021 were $34 million, surpassing the $30 million mark for the second consecutive year. 

With regards to tonnage for 2021, the port moved a record 13.8 million short tons of cargo, up from the previous record of 11.6 million set just a year ago. 

We also broke our record for the movement of steel products in 2021 with 4.3 million short tons, while our petroleum-based commodities represented nearly 50 percent of the total cargo moved with 6.3 million tons. Other commodities like aggregates, cement, and grains also saw an increase last year.

We continue being a major player in the wind energy sector, moving nacelles, hubs, tower sections and the world’s longest windmill blades. 

Thank you to everyone who helped us achieve these milestones.

The increase in cargo activity catapulted our rail partners at BRG, operated by OmniTRAX, to another record-breaking year. BRG ended 2021 with an all-time high of 65,865 loaded railcars handled, a 22 percent increase from 2020. Our friends are clearly going full steam ahead, congratulations.

The growing activity at the port has also increased truck traffic in recent years, registering 438,000 truck movements in 2021, which represents an average of 1,200 truck movements per day. 

Ship traffic has increased as well. In Fiscal Year 2020 our Harbor Master Office recorded 1,671 total vessel calls. In 2021, that number increased to 1,855 – an 11 percent increase. And we all know this formula: more vessels equal more cargo; and that equals more jobs.

For the ninth-straight year, Foreign Trade Zone No. 62 ranks in the top three out of 193 FTZs in the nation for the value of exports, according to the U.S. Foreign Trade Zones Board’s annual report to Congress. The port’s FTZ reported more than $4 billion in exported goods in 2020. Additionally, FTZ No. 62 ranked 21st nationally for the value of imports totaling more than $3 billion.

These successes are setting the bar higher, establishing new records, and strengthening the foundation for greater economic opportunities going forward.

With this mindset, in October I announced the creation of a new committee focused on enhancing economic development opportunities at the Port of Brownsville. This committee is composed of port staff and is chaired by Board Secretary Esteban Guerra and includes Commissioner John Reed as vice chair.

The committee is tasked with recruiting and retaining value added industrial growth and creating well-paying jobs through strategic initiatives that focus on improving the port’s competitiveness.

The port accomplished a big milestone a few weeks ago with the opening of the South Port Connector Road, the newest commerce route of the Rio Grande Valley.

The South Port Connector, the first entrance located on the south side of the ship channel, is the latest infrastructure enhancement created to help our tenants and port users with their current and future needs. This will improve the movement of commodities to and from the port and keep the uninterrupted flow of trade and commerce between the U.S. and our friends in Mexico.

This road is part of a series of critical enhancements the port has developed in the last 8 years. In that time span, we’ve invested more than $100 million in the construction and rehabilitation of docks, port facilities and equipment, utility infrastructure, roads, patios, and lay down yards. 

These improvements have been exclusively paid for using port revenues, and not at the expense of the taxpayer.

Of course, this could not be possible without the support and thoughtful leadership of my fellow commissioners of the navigation district as we look to develop and provide the best transportation facilities possible to remain a world class port.

The port is working together with Ternium, our biggest steel customer, Gulf Stream Marine, BRG and OnmiTRAX on a major terminal development that will maximize the efficient loading of open-top gondola railcars for steel slab shipments to feed Ternium’s recently expanded mill in Pesqueria, Nuevo Leon, Mexico.

In May of last year, Ternium’s new hot rolling mill at Pesqueria began operations to support the automotive, construction and white appliances industries in Mexico. And we proudly say that all the steel slab processed at that plant arrives at our docks by vessel and is transported south of the border by way of BRG and our other partner in the operation, Kansas City Southern de Mexico.

But that’s not all, just this past month we learned that Ternium plans to invest $1 billion to further expand the facilities in Pesqueria and be certain that the Port of Brownsville will play a huge part in the logistics to support that operation. 

Our steel throughput will ramp up through the next coming years. And we will be ready.

We continue expanding our liquid storage capacity, currently at 6.9 million barrels, to meet the demand of consumers in the Rio Grande Valley and Northern Mexico.

Sunoco LP, one of the largest independent fuel distributors in the United States, announced in May of last year the development of a refined products terminal at the Port of Brownsville. 

This $55 million investment includes 560,000 barrels of storage capacity and will cater to markets in South Texas as well as Mexico. Sunoco expects the terminal to be in service in the next month or so.

Our nation’s leading ship recyclers, All Star Metals, International Shipbreaking Limited, and SteelCoast, continue winning a steady stream of major recycling contracts from both the U.S. Government and private owners. 

Each recycling project represents significant and good-paying jobs for hundreds of industrial workers, while providing an environmentally friendly supply of high-quality steel scrap and other valuable metals, in great demand by both domestic and international steel mills.

In February of last year, ISL became the first ship-breaking site in the U.S. to gain ship recycling accreditation from the European Union after investing $30 million in compliant infrastructure at their shipyard in the Port of Brownsville.

They quickly got to work on the Norwegian-flagged vessel M/T Wolverine and have added to their list of contracts European Union-based ships as well as ships flying the flags of European Union member states.

ISL also made news after procuring the contracts to recycle a pair of Navy aircraft carriers: the USS Kitty Hawk and the USS John F. Kennedy. These are the fourth and fifth aircraft carriers to be recycled by the company, which is part of the EMR Group.

The Kitty Hawk is in the middle of its final voyage of 16,000 miles from Bremerton, Washington, to the Port of Brownsville. The storied ship is expected to arrive sometime in May and plans for an event to honor the aircraft carrier are under way so stay tuned for an announcement coming soon.

We’re proud to be the major economic and job-creation engine in the region supporting more than 51,000 jobs across the state resulting in $3 billion in economic activity while providing more than 8,500 jobs and infusing $2 billion annually into the Rio Grande Valley.

As a job creator, we understand the need to build the human capital necessary to sustain our existing industries and attract new ones. For this reason, the port works with local school districts, colleges, universities, technical schools, and workforce development leaders in growing career opportunities for local residents.

This past September, the Texas A&M University System and two of its state engineering agencies – the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station and the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service – announced a new initiative at the Port of Brownsville to invigorate advanced manufacturing, with workforce development programs aimed at preparing people for high-need jobs. The program gathers community input, creates collaborations, and develops training courses that meet the needs of current and future employers at the Port of Brownsville.

Furthermore, the port’s scholarship program was created in 2020 to help deserving students pursue a higher education and career dreams. Each year, the port awards 32 high school graduating seniors with a $1,000 scholarship each to help them continue their education. To date, we have awarded $64,000 benefiting 64 students attending schools within the navigation district. Expect these numbers to continue to grow.

Our commitment to our community is stronger than ever and we are proud to invest in our youth as they continue to pursue their aspirations of becoming the leaders of tomorrow. 

As we celebrate these accomplishments, we are determined to stay productive. We will need to work even harder to continue enjoying these successes.

We commend our administrative leadership, staff, and port tenants for these well-earned accomplishments, but we aren’t done yet. The best is yet to come and when it does, it will find us working.

Thank you for your trust and support as we continue shaping the economic landscape of the Rio Grande Valley and Northern Mexico.

Editor’s Note: The above commentary comprises the prepared remarks of Brownsville Navigation District Chairman Sergio Tito Lopez. Lopez delivered the remarks at the Port of Brownsville’s 2022 State of the Port address. The address was made Rancho Viejo on March 24, 2022. 

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above commentary shows Brownsville Navigation District Chairman Sergio Tito Lopez. (Photo: Ron Whitlock/Ron Whitlock Reports)

Editor’s Note: The “Eddie” Sergio Tito Lopez referred to in his commentary is Eduardo ‘Eddie” Campirano, port director for the Brownsville Navigation District. 

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