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:
Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr.
Back from ’03 to ’07 we spent a lot of time laying the groundwork for this project and I am beyond pleased and honored to be able to be here today with each and every one of you. When I tell you that today is an historic day for Brownsville, the county and the Valley, I am not exaggerating by any stretch of the imagination. The commitment NextDecade has made to the port, to the city, to the county, to the entire region, seeks volumes about the future for the RGV. We are moving forward and we are capitalizing on the opportunity today.
I am proud of their (BND directors) unwavering commitment to make sure this project got to this point. Who would have ever thought, 16, 17, years ago, that we would be here celebrating a public, private partnership? This should be the model for the rest of the state and the rest of the country.
For too long the Rio Grande Valley, there has been a dirty word used as part of everything and that word we are trying to eliminate from the vocabulary is can’t. For too many years and too many decades, that can’t happen in the Valley, that can’t happen in Brownsville, that can’t happen in Cameron County. Well, I am telling you, in the Valley, anything can happen and anything is possible. I want to echo Secretary Whitley’s comments because I have used those all the time, potential is great but progress is even better, and prosperity.
This dredging project has been a high priority of myself and many, many, leaders these past 17, 20 years. Even before the LNGs, we understood the necessity of having a deeper channel to attract more and more industry and obviously more commerce. The port never gave up and when the chief’s (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) report was delivered we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. So, to have NextDecade here today, taking this enormous step forward speaks volumes for our community and its leaders. We have shown that we can attract a partner and some of the world’s leading companies. Anything is possible when we work together.
As far as the county is concerned, we have worked alongside NextDecade over the course of a year, working to develop an economic development package that will benefit our county for years to come. On October 3, 2017, the commissioners court approved and executed that agreement. That package included a commitment to fund community projects that will provide millions of dollars to countywide projects identified and managed by the Cameron County commissioners court.
There was a consensus on the commissioners court that if we were to do this agreement we needed to ensure our people in Cameron County were the first ones in line to get those jobs. That is why a critical component of our agreement was also a commitment by NextDecade to hire locally and to provide comparable living wages to the thousands of workers we anticipate getting work at this facility. NextDecade has committed to hire locally. We are in the process of working with all our institutions, including our school districts and our technical schools, TSC (Texas Southmost College) and TSTC (Texas State Technical College), to provide training and certification programs to deliver the labor pool that will be needed for this project. Our good friends at the Texas Workforce Commission are also obviously assisting us to that end.
With this sizable investment by NextDecade we will also see a payment in lieu of taxes pilot, which is a great, great word for us in Cameron County. Annually, it will allow the county to fulfill our obligations and priorities. Right now, the agreement for the pilot starts at approximately $27 million annually and can grow to $80 million over the course of the abatement timeframe. This project will obviously be a huge economic boost to our tax base and will bring other needed investment to the region. Just this project alone – and I love telling people this – at full build out will literally double the tax base valuation of Cameron County. So, we can’t have you here soon enough, let me tell you.
It is a great time to be living in Cameron County, South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. We are on the cusp of greatness. Later this afternoon we will be signing an historic agreement, transitioning from three metropolitan planning organizations in the Valley into one regional MPO, which will bring tens, hundreds, billions of dollars to the Valley. All of us working together are working to improve the economic conditions of our country and we will no long take no or can’t as an answer.
Lives are going to be changed by this project. Families will be impacted. Many will be reunited. Many individuals that have left this region because they have been unable to find a good-paying job or a job in their particular field will be able to come back. I cannot tell you how important that is to a region that values families as much as we do. This level of prosperity will lift us all because, as the port says, together we can. I congratulate NextDecade, and thank each and every one of you for your commitment and being here today and for taking part in this momentous occasion. Good luck and may God bless this entire project.