Good news at the port

Published Brownsville Herald April 25, 2011

Over the years I have been critical of the Port of Brownsville. We are now coming up on the 75th anniversary of the port and I can finally see the evidence of change for the better.
This started with an invitation to attend the 75th anniversary celebration at the port on May 13 from Commissioner Martin Arambula.
The Port of Brownsville has collected taxes even though it supports the whole region, while nearby Port Isabel, a much smaller operation, has been able to operate at no cost to the community, as have many other very large facilities such as the Port of New York, which will not have to tax its owners, New York and New Jersey, even to replace the World Trade Center.
I recently stated that a port business entity should not be a taxing authority and drain on the constituency. To my surprise Mr. Arambula responded in part:
“The BND tax rate is $0.048 per $100 of assessed valuation. We have lowered the rate every single year for the past 16 years. The goal is to completely eliminate it.”
I must applaud this kind of thinking! Things may really be improving!
The port has the usual services, such as discharging facilities including a grain elevator, barge lines and some facilities that others do not have, like a shipbuilding and repair facility, Keppel AmFELS, and ship breakers International Shipbreaking and Transforma Marine Corp.
I also not long ago visited ship breaker facility Esco Marine, and met its president, Richard Jaross. He has changed the description of what his business does to “ship recycling.” After discussing his business and how it operates, I had to agree that it had evolved past the traditional role of dismantling ships. The top-of-the-line facility dismantles vessels and recycles the parts and materials in a most responsible way, so as to reduce the need to mine new material.
The company has developed an additional specialty, in environmentally preparing ships to be sunk in order to provide new offshore reefs that supply muchneeded places for marine life to grow.
The Port of Brownsville has numerous opportunities to grow and evolve. One comes to mind when I remember the loss of the Texas Treasure gaming company because it could not be repaired at a location near enough to return to service in a reasonable time. That was similar to some of the reasons I lost my own first company, the Isabel Cortes Ferry Service. The only capable local facility, AmFELS, has work schedules up to a year in advance and carefully selects new business. The only other shipyard nearby is in Mobile, Ala.
That tells me another shipyard facility could be built here to supply quality repairs, at reasonable prices, and perform routine maintenance.
Older vessels like shrimp boats also could be converted into faux recreational sailing and touring vessels, as was suggested to me when I was preparing a plan to develop the Port of Mexquital.
Our area has the space and the labor to develop plans like this.
Last Aug. 11, after a four-month process and various applications, the Port of Brownsville received the marine highway designation from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The designation will encourage freight to be shipped along the coastline less expensively and reduce the number of trucks on the already congested roadways.
In 2006 the Port of Brownsville and Port Isabel were evaluated by the Inter-American Development Bank for inclusion in the Pan-American Maritime Highway, which would provide some development guidance and assistance to allow for similar freight, private vehicles and passengers to be transported by vessel south to Central and South America. They considered Brownsville highly for the project.
Imagine if the project had been acted out! How many lives might even have been saved?
Fortunately, the Port of Brownsville has quickly expanded its marine highway capability since SeaBridge Freight became involved in December 2008. With its established route to Port Manatee, Fl., the port recently was able to handle one of its largest container shipments, 120 containers. Up to now, the port has handled more than 5,292 20-foot containers.
The port staff has also been working on an aggressive rebuilding and renovation infrastructure plan so it can provide the best facilities as the economy makes a comeback. New equipment will help speed up the in-house refurbishing of patios and docks, warehouses are being refurbished and repaired, and roads are being repaved. The port has also submitted additional grant applications for funds to build a new bulk cargo dock, a new oil dock, rail improvements and a new mobile harbor crane.
I plan to attend the anniversary festivities. I hope you will join me and take a look at what is now being done with your tax money; I think you’ll see a brighter future. Remember, the port is one of the largest influences on our economy.