MCALLEN, RGV – It will not only be Willacy County that benefits when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes its multi-million dollar dredging work on the Mansfield Cut, says Port Mansfield executive director.

Ron Mills says the Port of Harlingen will receive a huge boos because it will be able to attract offshore barges and coastal freighters.

Ron Mills

“Getting open access to the ocean is huge for the Port of Harlingen. Twenty or 30 years ago the port was getting some offshore traffic. I believe a coastal freighter was running sugar back and forth from Nicaragua and they were going through the Mansfield Cut. They can go after this type of business again,” Mills said.

As first reported in the Rio Grande Guardian, the Corps of Engineers is slated to dredge sand and silt from the Mansfield Cut later this year so that the ship channel has a navigable depth of 17 or 18 feet. This means Port Mansfield will be able to re-engage in commercial activity after years in the doldrums.

“It is not just Port Mansfield that is going to benefit from this. Harlingen equally as well will benefit from this, if they can find the customer base again, which they probably already have,” said Mills.

“Harlingen just has to reignite the fires. They have been in the same situation as us. You cannot get out onto the ocean. Hopefully they will be able to get more commercial traffic to increase the intensity and importance of Port Mansfield.”

Initially, Mills, working with public advocacy consultant Ron Whitlock, was able to get more than ten million dollars in federal funds to dredge the Mansfield Cut to 14 feet. However, the Corps of Engineers later informed Willacy County Navigation District that intends to do some advanced dredging so they do not have to come back again any time soon.

“Now they are talking about 17 to 18 feet, which is more than adequate for an average coastal freighter. So, the Port of Harlingen would probably be able to bring in vessels up to say 300 or 400 foot, coastal freighters. Port Mansfield does not have the bulk head space for that type of traffic.”

Mills gave an interview to the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM at a breakfast event hosted by Tamaulipas tourism officials at the McAllen Country Club. The officials wanted to thank McAllen leaders for supporting their state. 

“One of the reasons I am here is to get the Port of Tampico or Altamira to bring offshore barges from the Mansfield Cut into Port Mansfield for whatever commodity they may be interested in. Willacy County is one of the biggest onion producers in the state. Tampico is one of the biggest shipper of onions in the world, so maybe we can provide them with some of this commodity, going through our port,” Mills said.

Asked how the Port of Harlingen could benefit, Mills said: “I know they currently have a lot of grain activity. And they are the biggest distributor of petroleum for the Valley, even bigger than Brownsville. This comes down the Intracoastal Waterway on barges. Harlingen has the infrastructure in place. If they are lucky they could renew some of their old contracts.”

If the Port of Harlingen can capitalize on the deepening of the ship channel at Port Mansfield it could be in line for automatic dredging work by the Corps of Engineers, Mills explained.

“The Port of Harlingen is looking for that last 200,000 tons of material to get the Corps’ support. They are looking for that magical one million tons. The are currently at 800,000 tons per year. At one million tons the Corps takes over responsibility for dredging. Harlingen falls just short of that,” Mills said.

“So, I think they should be able to bring offshore barges or coastal freighters into the port. I think it would give them a huge boost and also justify further the extended money the Corps has to spend to keep the Mansfield Cut open. Right now, they are only using us an example.”

Asked when the Port of Harlingen’s heyday was, Mills said: “Probably in the 1980s and 90s, the same as Port Mansfield. But, they still have a lot of activity there. They are very productive port.”

As for Port Mansfield, Mills said he expects to have barges using the port by the end of the year, once the Mansfield Cut has been dredged. He also thinks his port can benefit once the State of Tamaulipas starts developing the Burgos Basin.

“We could be the port they utilize. One only has to look at what happened with the Port of Victoria. They had very little commercial activity. They built two storage containers four years ago to take Eagle Ford Shale oil and now they are the busiest shallow water port in the nation, with four million tons of business. Sixteen barges a day, equal to 13 tanker trucks full of oil.”

Meanwhile, Port Mansfield continues to be a top fishing port, Mills pointed out. “We have 200 people registered as charter boat captains. We are No. 1 for fishing in Texas, No. 4 in Gulf of Mexico and No. 10 in the United States.”