BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Brownsville Navigation District held a news conference recently to announce funding to deepen the Port of Brownsville ship channel.

NextDecade Corporation, which is considering building a liquefied natural gas export terminal at the port, will partly fund Brazos Island Harbor Channel Improvement Project. The company has an option to lease 984 acres at the port.

Among the speakers at the news conference were John Reed, chairman of BND, Matt Schatzman, president and CEO of NextDecade, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., and Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez. 

In a news release, BND said deepening the ship channel was a “landmark agreement” that would “transform the business landscape of the Rio Grande Valley.”

The Rio Grande Guardian, in partnership with Ron Whitlock Reports and RGV Public Rio 88 FM, has transcribed the speeches made at the news conference.

Here are the remarks of:

John Reed, chairman of the Brownsville Navigation District

We are very pleased you are here today to share this important milestone. In 2007, the port began in earnest its quest to deepen the ship channel from 42 feet to 52 feet. Today, we are going to provide you with news about how far we have come in achieving this difficult task.

John Reed

In 2007 the BND commission authorized staff to develop a strategy to deepen the ship channel. It has been a long and at times frustrating effort. To recap the project, the project feasibility study started in 2007. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study was completed in 2011. In 2014, the Corps of Engineers completed the feasibility study, which recommended deepening the channel to 52 feet. In 2016, the U.S. congress authorized the project to make the project eligible to receive federal funding.

We expect the project to be paid for with a combination of public and private partnership dollars, port funds and federal funds. And that is what we are gathered to discuss in greater detail today.

When complete, the deeper channel will make us among the deepest ports in the Gulf of Mexico. Enhancing our competitiveness by closely matching the design features of an expanded Panama Canal. And, of course, the geometric design features of a deeper channel create a wider channel as a result. A wider, deeper channel not only benefits existing and future port customers, it also benefits our LNG partners.

To that point, I would now like to introduce you to Matt Schatzman, CEO of NextDecade Corporation and parent company of Rio Grande LNG.

Editor’s Note: In a press gaggle prior to the new conference, Eddie Campirano, port director for BND, gave remarks to reporters.

Asked how much the deepening of the ship channel would cost, Campirano said:

“Right now it is about $350 million. This commitment (from NextDecade) could be as much as $200 million. So, it is, obviously, a very significant piece of that overall project.”

Asked if NextDecade’s decision to invest in the deepening of the ship channel gives a clear indication that the company plans to build an liquefied natural gas export terminal at the port, a spokesman for NextDecade answered: “We expect to make a final investment in third quarter of this year.”

Campirano acknowledged the deepening of the ship channel has been a long time coming. “I arrived at the port in 2007 so I can tell you from 2007 forward that whole process of going through the regulatory process, the feasibility phase, the permitting and all of that, to get to this end, it has been, obviously, a huge step. Getting congressional authorization was huge. So, now it is, how are we going to execute? This (the partnership with NextDecade) is a huge part of the plan. It is very significant, not only for the port but the region as a whole.

Asked about other potential sources of money to deepen the ship channel, Campirano said: “We are looking every opportunity. We are not leaving any rock unturned. There could be some legislation at the state level that could be of assistance as well. We are looking at everything. This (the partnership with NextDecade) is obviously a huge thrust in the right direction.”

Campirano added that the deepening of the ship channel is “probably the most important project for the future sustainability of the port going forward.”