Questions no Answers – Keeping up with reality at the port

Published Brownsvlle Herald February 24, 2008 

My new issue of the Journal of Commerce reported that imports at the giant port of Long Beach, California have dropped by 4.6% and exports have risen by 18.9% . Further, while watching my favorite comedy show, the House of Representatives on C-Span, it was noted that we were exporting substantially more than we were importing since December of than year. On the home front, there are nine ships scheduled in the Port of Brownsville during the month of February.  At a recent Port Board Meeting it was reported that shipping was getting better and that new business in the form of containers or trailers on barges from Tampa was expected to begin shortly. Congratulations to the marketing team for the hard work. I sincerely hope this is a trend that will continue and that the Port management is now moving away from continuing past mistaken directions and moving towards a realistic view of today’s realities. 

What are today’s realities here in the Valley..  In considering the following, it should be known that, I have operated a roll on / roll off vessel operation as well as a roll on / roll off passenger ferry operation and that I am involved in consulting in the industry and have a personal interest in the Port of El Mesquital. The most obvious is the high price of fuel which seriously affects vessels and trucking. Secondly is the fact that the bridges are becoming more crowded because of the increased traffic and more intense security measures and the likelihood of a port bridge diminishes more and more with the passage of time. New versions of free trade treaties are being negotiated to tie trade with Central and South America closer to the U.S. 

Thirdly, there is the loss of a lot of the produce production in the valley due to drought and other weather problems. The warehouses and folks that really know the industry are still there but just not the produce. It would seem that the valley could resume its position as a center of produce marketing be contract growing in Central America and shipping from smaller ports using the smaller RoRo vessels that need only the minimum of facilities and none of the expensive cranes and other equipment. Transit times to Brownsville are in the area of three to four days and will easily fit into a delivery window of nine days allowing for the marketing of some tree/vine ripened products using the smaller boutique entrepreneur vessel operations and the especially resourceful truckers in the area. The resulting frequent transport facilities would also provide new opportunities to further develop new opportunities in the maquiladora operations that also exist in Central America not to mention others not even considered yet. All of these ideas may be enhanced further by establishing a “barge service” bridge between Brownsville and the Port of El Mesquital 40 miles south. Associates in Mexico have suggested that Mexico officials have determined to allocate sufficient funds to complete dredging and improve dock facilities there. Perhaps the trade opportunities have not been lost on our neighbors to the south. Lastly, in consideration of the formal withdrawal of Fidel from an official office in government, there is floating in the now clearing mist the possibility that relations with Cuba may become normalized in the not distant future. That would provide the opportunity to revolutionize logistics and distribution patterns in the Western Hemisphere. Just imagine “Wallmart sized central distribution centers” in Cuba with product being supplied to South and Central America using barges and roll on / roll off vessels. One should not forget the market that would arise when a nation essentially starving for much of what we take for granted and the products that would be developed by the industrious Cuban people. 

In order to take advantage of the realities an analysis of what the port intends for the near future and definition of needs developed as well as a plan for specific marketing. Currently, the port functions best as a general cargo port where quick turnaround of vessels and services are not critical. The 2.5 hours transit from the sea to the port can be costly to passenger and container / trailer operations, and in fact that was one of the major reasons I chose to locate “Isabel Cortes Ferry Service” in Port Isabel. Further, the 2.5 hours of fuel usage can put an additional bite on the operation. I would suggest that the port consider a dock facility on property nearer the channel entrance. There is a location that seems ideal on the North side of the channel just adjoining Port Isabel. A modest dock suitable for a passenger service, barge trailer and roll on / roll off operation could be developed at a reasonable cost. The transit time from sea to dock would become approximately 25 to 30 minutes. A definite attraction! In the coming Port elections we can encourage new thinking like this to move into today’s world. I am looking at Sergio Lopez, the principal of a cross border trucking company, and Eliceo Munoz , formerly the conscience of BISD, as candidates that could provide new life in port management. There is still time to the election and I suggest that we listen closely to all the candidates and examine their goals, to guide the inevitable evolution of the port that is so important to the economy of the entire region. 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Kurgan says:

    FD,

    With a weaker dollar, you will see exports rise, and the trade defict fall. This obviously ignores that the vast majority of our trade deficit is due to oil imports, due to limitations of domestic harvesting.

    This also ignores that the smaller margin exports such as grain will suffer becaue their product now fetches a lower price in the international market.

    On the shipping issue, anything shipped domestically or coastwise is not nearly as lucrativeas international shipping. It is good to see the multi-modal trailers, but if the BND wants to really compete, it has to get out from under the stanglehold of Union Pacific. This may mean allowing UP to buy (cheaply) the BRG loop railroad. This may be the only way to create a market niche to compete with Altamira, Bayport or Houston.

    Short term n for a long run deal will pay off, even if you project out just empty container traffic or holding facilities. Fuel costs are going to slow land andair transportation and the rail lines will benefit.

    Ergo, BND is land locked in many ways.

    R. Cowen had a good idea about being a regional supply depot for off shore drilling.

    Krgan

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