Ronald Mills, port director for Willacy County Navigation District.

SAN BENITO, RGV -A new maritime training facility at Port Mansfield would help train Texas and Tamaulipas law enforcement officials who specialize in work on the Rio Grande and offshore.

Ron Mills, port director for Willacy County Navigation District, unveiled his plans at a State of RGV Seaports forum hosted by Congressman Filemon Vela and the Rio Grande Valley Partnership.

Mills said he has held two meetings with the Department of Public Safety and three meetings with representatives from the state of Tamaulipas and Mexico.

“A maritime training facility at Port Mansfield would bring in several hundred DPS officers a year, short term. Long term, we want to grow it to an international program that would also bring in Mexican officers to be trained in the United States,” Mills said.

“In Tamaulipas alone, they need 9,000 vetted officers on the streets. They have 1,400 because they fired 2,800. They need that disparity on the payroll. They do not want to train these officers in Mexico because of corruption issues and so on. They are looking for a place here.”

Mills said if he can “stimulate” DPS to come in and build a training facility to help their marine division, he would work to “spin that off” into an international training facility. “This would help them (DPS and the state of Tamaulipas) and bring in additional revenues for the county and the navigation district.”

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian immediately following the forum, Mills confirmed he had “made a proposal” to the Department of Public Safety to bring in a maritime training facility at Port Mansfield.

“That would be a Godsend for them and us because they do not have a place to train their officers, the ones that operate on the river or offshore. It would be a plus for them. At the same time there are other resources, other entities that are interested in a maritime law enforcement training facility. If we could find a way to build a facility that could be multi-functional, that would be great for a lot of organizations.”

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and in his remarks at the forum, Mills said his goal in developing Port Mansfield is to also help Willacy County as a whole. He described it as Texas’ poorest community.

“We need to be able to bring commodities in and out of Port Mansfield because Willacy County, being the poorest county in the state of Texas, needs that revenue and the only way to get that revenue is through our port,” Mills said in his interview.

In his interview, Mills pointed out that port Mansfield is primarily now a recreational port, used for fishing. He said this was not always the case. “Port Mansfield was commissioned by the state in 1948 to be a commercial port. And it survived as a commercial port until the late 1980s, early 1990s. Then it died off.”

Mills said he was pleased to have the opportunity, presented by the forum, to amplify his long-term goals for Port Mansfield.

“One of the things brought up in this meeting was that offshore oil is starting to come back in this direction, from Louisiana into Texas waters and even Mexican waters. Maybe the potential is there for us to consider getting into the offshore oil industry again. It was very lucrative for Willacy County and Port Mansfield back in those days,” Mills said.

“Until then, I am very interested in bringing commercial activities back in because that is the purpose of the port. It is great that it gets to be recreational and we can keep it that way. But, at the same time, we need to be able to bring in commodities in and out.”

Mills said his biggest challenge is one faced by other sea ports in Texas – maintenance dredging.

“Our biggest concern has always been our depth of water, dredging, things of that nature. There never is any funding for it, mainly because of the amount of commodities we transport out. We don’t get much cargo out of our port and because of that we don’t get funding in. That is a concern we have of the Corps and the management they have of our monies,” Mills said, referencing the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We are hoping we can get other ports to help us out but obviously, as you can tell from the meeting, the other ports all have the same problem. If we can get maintenance dredging for all the ports, that would be a big plus for our region. I could bring in commodities, commercial entities, into our port much more easily.”

In his remarks at the forum, which was held at the San Benito District Office of Congressman Vela, Mills said he has had three meetings a liaison in Mexico who is working on international affairs. He pointed out that one of the most successful shallow water ports in the state of Texas is Victoria. The reason for that, he said, was the movement of Eagle Ford Shale.

“There is a much larger strike in (Tamaulipas) Mexico, the Burgos Basin. It is too expensive to haul out of there and take it to Victoria. Bringing the cargo across the Donna Bridge, bring it to Port Mansfield to take it out and up the Intracoastal that way, would be more economical for them (Mexico), as well as stimulate Willacy County’s economy,” Mills said.

Also in his remarks, Mills mentioned a legislative success during the recently ended 85th session. He said a new bill now awaiting signature by Gov. Greg Abbott will allows residents to have leases beyond the 50-year mark.

“There has always been a restriction on how long you can have a lease. There have been ways to work around it but I do not like to play work around when it comes to somebody’s life and their livelihood. They invest all their money in their family’s home and after so many years you can theoretically take it away. This bill allows us to extend residential leases 100 years.”

Mills said Port Mansfield has 500 residential homes. He said he was pleased to report that 21 new “high dollar” homes are under construction. “We have had pretty good growth last two years. We are hoping this will bring seven to eight million dollars of construction in the next two years.”