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SteelCoast completes acquisition of Esco’s former assets

BY STEVE CLARK/The Brownsville Herald

Article published May 3, 2017


BROWNSVILLE – More than two years after shutting down operations, the former Esco Marine Inc. ship recycling yard will restart operations under new ownership and a new name: SteelCoast.

The new company is a joint venture of Hilco Redevelopments Partners, a unit of Hilco Global, and MCM Marine Services, an affiliate of MCM Management Corp.

Gary Epstein, Hilco Global’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, said the purchase of assets from the previous owner was completed Monday evening and that operations would restart immediately. Kris Wood, Esco’s former vice president of administration, was tapped as SteelCoast CEO.

Esco ceased operations in February 2015, putting 300 employees out of work, and filed for bankruptcy the following month. The decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Saratoga and two smaller vessels, the USS Shenandoah and USS Yellowstone, have been sitting partially disassembled since then.

SteelCoast plans to hire 130 employees by the end of May and 80 to 90 more during the coming months, Epstein said. Assuming the company can drum up enough business, the aim is to get employment numbers back to where they were during Esco’s heyday, he said. SteelCoast will dismantle oil rigs, locomotives, railcars and automobiles in addition to ships, Epstein said.

Roberto Perez, Hilco Redevelopment executive vice president and SteelCoast board member, said the company is confident, following lengthy due diligence, that Brownsville offers a “very substantial growth path.”

Putting together a deal to acquire and relaunch the recycling yard was complex given the nature of the assets and the imperative of maintaining the client relationship with the federal government, he said. Rob Mardigian, CEO of MCM and SteelCoast board member, said Hilco and MCM have collaborated on industrial remediation and redevelopment projects in recent years, including automobile manufacturing sites, power plants and, most recently, a 3,100-acre redevelopment called Tradepoint Atlantic, once the site of Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore, Md.

“Hilco and MCM have become very proficient at identifying new opportunities for industrial facilities that many have viewed as too challenging to tackle,” he said.

Another project underway is the redevelopment of the old Exelon Boston Edison power plant, which will bring jobs and economic vitality back to the depressed area of South Boston, Epstein said.

“If you look at our track record at Hilco Global, we are very proud to be restarting some of these old industrial manufacturing operations and sites, and reemploying people in a fresh new way,” he said.

For employment information, go to www.steelcoastus. com.


West Plains Receives First Unit Train of Grain at Port of Brownsville

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – West Plains LLC received its first grain of the season April 25th at the Port of Brownsville with the arrival of 109 rail cars of corn from Nebraska.

West Plains entered into an agreement with the port in 2016 to restore and operate the grain elevator, with capacity to store three million bushels of grain. Since restoration efforts began, West Plains has invested more than $5.5 million in preparation of Tuesday’s shipment, the first at the port in more than seven years. Eventually, West Plains expects to receive 220 rail cars monthly.

The initial shipment of 109 rail cars is equivalent to 440 semi-truck loads. The corn will be stored for less than 30 days before being trucked to feed lots north of the Rio Grande Valley and parts of the Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.

“We feel like we’re just scratching the surface,” said Amit Bhandari, chairman and CEO of the BioUrja Group, parent company of West Plains. “There’s a lot of business here.”

West Plains’ future plans include facility enhancements to achieve high-speed handling of grain through all modes of transportation, including truck, rail and vessel. On-port rail service is provided by OmniTRAX through a master franchise agreement with Brownsville Navigation District.

“We’d like to have the ship loader and unloader in about a year,” Bhandari explained. “It will be an investment of $12 to $15 million, and at that point we want to just facilitate trade.”

“The partnership between the Port of Brownsville, OmniTRAX Inc., and West Plains is another example of how the port is working to expand the economic vitality of the Rio Grande Valley,” said John Wood, Brownsville Navigation District chairman.


A West Plains employee opens a hatch from a rail car to release corn at the Port of Brownsville grain elevator. West Plains received its first grain shipment of the season April 25, 2017.

A West Plains employee watches corn fall from a rail car at the Port of Brownsville grain elevator. The corn will be stored for less than 30 days before being trucked to feed lots north of the Rio Grande Valley and parts of the Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.

Texas LNG Selects Engineering Firms to Build Plant

Texas LNG contracted Samsung Engineering and KBR, Inc. to design and build its LNG export facility proposed at the Port of Brownsville.

Samsung Engineering and KBR will provide Texas LNG with pre-final investment decision (pre-FID) detailed engineering and post-final investment decision (post-FID) engineering, procurement and construction services for its proposed 4 million tons per year LNG export facility.

Samsung Engineering has already completed the conceptual study, pre-front end engineering design (Pre-FEED) and FEED for the project.

The Pre-FID detailed engineering, expected to begin this year, will include further design and schedule optimization, identification of long lead items and early works commitments, early preparation of purchase orders, and all due diligence in relation to technical commercial and contractual matters that will enable Samsung Engineering and KBR to execute a lump sum turnkey engineering, procurement and construction contract for the Texas LNG plant.

Texas LNG recently executed detailed non-binding term sheets with four independent LNG buyers in Southeast Asia and China for a volume of 3.1 million tons per year.

Final investment decision for the project is expected in 2018.

The Port of Brownsville is the site of two other LNG proposed projects. All three projects are currently under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Bill Aiming to Fund Texas Ports Clears Senate Committee

A bill creating a fund supporting future improvements to ship channels in Texas is heading to the full Senate for consideration.

Senate Bill 28, filed by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and co-authored by senators Juan “Chuy” Hijonosa, D-McAllen, and Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, received unanimous approval from the Senate Transportation Committee in March and is now awaiting approval from the Senate and House chambers.

The bill proposes the creation of a ship channel improvement revolving fund, controlled by the Texas Department of Transportation, which would help navigation districts finance qualified projects like channel widening or deepening. According to the bill, only projects authorized under the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) would be considered for funding.

In December 2016, the Port of Brownsville received full congressional authorization to pursue federal funding for the Brazos Island Harbor Channel Improvement Project after President Barack Obama signed the 2016 WRDA. The project calls for the Brownsville ship channel to be deepened to 52 feet from its current design depth of 42 feet.

With a depth of 52 feet, the port will be able to accommodate deeper draft cargo vessels carrying heavier loads, which translates to a greater economic impact per vessel for the region. It also aligns with the recent expansion of the Panama Canal, allowing newer and bigger ships crossing that stretch to call on the port for business.

CSC Sugar Begins Operations at the Port of Brownsville

BROWNSVILLE – CSC Sugar began its new packaging and distribution operations at the Port of Brownsville March 22, 2017.

Key to the company’s expansion to Brownsville is the port’s rail infrastructure and cargo capabilities.

“We chose the Port of Brownsville specifically because it provides great access from both Union Pacific and BNSF railroads. It’s excellent rail connectivity. The freight rate to Brownsville is basically the same regardless where you’re coming from, whether it’s from the sugar growing regions in Minnesota or Idaho,” said Paul Farmer, CEO and president of CSC Sugar. “Having the Brownsville Rio Grande International Railway as the local short line is also a key part of the deal,” he added.

In 2014, the port signed a strategic partnership with OmniTRAX to operate BRG and develop the 1,400-acre GEOTRAC Industrial Hub.

“The Port of Brownsville and the GEOTRAC Industrial Hub offer a very unique location for companies like CSC Sugar. Plus, the capabilities of the Brownsville and Rio Grande International Railway will create new opportunities for exporting and importing a variety of products like beet and cane sugar,” said Kevin Shuba, CEO of OmniTRAX.

“This is an important project for the Port of Brownsville because it helps bring greater employment opportunities to our region,” said John Wood, chairman of the Brownsville Navigation District. “It further diversifies our cargo mix, making us less vulnerable to geopolitical influences.”

CSC is one of the largest importers and exporters of refined sugar to and from North America. The company and the port began discussions about the project in late 2015, resulting in the new alignment with a host of integrated service providers.

The Connecticut company leased 242,000 sq. ft. of warehouse space at the port to export beet sugar to Africa. The sugar comes from the West and Mid-West via UP and BNSF railroads. CSC expects to receive up 25 to 30 rail cars weekly. The first rail shipment arrived at the CSC packaging plant March 22. About 500 tons of sugar daily will be packaged in 50 kilogram bags for export. The combined warehouses will accommodate 25,000 packaged tons of stored sugar.

Schaeffer Stevedoring is the selected stevedore. Ocean shipping will be via Handymax type ships with the first vessel expected to arrive in May.

CSC has already hired 33 local employees to fill all available positions, including warehousemen, forklift drivers and packaging equipment operators.

Port of Brownsville Launches New Website

The Port of Brownsville launched its redesigned website at on February 7, 2017.

The new website is an improvement from the previous site and features a cleaner and more visually impactful design providing visitors greater detail and information about the port, along with downloadable and printable forms to accelerate business activities. It also features enhanced content for marketing, media relations and public information.

The website’s new menu includes:

  • About the Port: visitors can find information about the port’s history, capabilities and infrastructure assets such as updates on key projects, information about security, financials, Foreign Trade Zone No. 62, harbor master office, fishing harbor, and career opportunities.
  • Business with the Port: highlights real estate opportunities, provides information on procurement notices, and user-friendly downloadable forms, permits and applications for vendors.
  • Newsroom: designed to provide media outlets and the community with information related to the port and the maritime industry, Port Matters e-newsletter issues, helpful resources like maps, brochures, fact sheets, and photo and video galleries.

The new site also includes information about the Brownsville Navigation District Board of Commissioners, meeting agendas and minutes, and contact information.

Registration Open For Annual Port of Brownsville 5K/1M Run/Walk

Pre-registration is open for the annual Port of Brownsville 5K/1M run/walk scheduled for March 4, 2017.

The event is part of The Challenge-RGV, an initiative by the University of Texas School of Public Health encouraging local residents to increase physical activity and live a healthy life.

To register, download form POB 5K1M REGISTRATION 2017 and submit to, or call (956) 831-4592. There is no entry fee.

Class-A Warehouses Coming to GEOTRAC Industrial Hub

Brownsville’s first Class-A warehouse park is in the works after OmniTRAX, Inc. landed an agreement with Majestic Realty Co. to develop the project on a 200-acre parcel within the GEOTRAC Industrial Hub at the Port of Brownsville.

The development of up to 2.8-million square feet during 15 years is expected to attract diverse companies, particularly wholesale distributors, to the region, driving job creation and helping to grow the economy in the Rio Grande Valley.

“The area around Brownsville is going through a commercial resurgence due to its proximity to Mexico, access to the Gulf and first class infrastructure,” said Tony Manos, senior vice president of Industrial Development for OmniTRAX. “OmniTRAX and Majestic Realty, with the support of the Port of Brownsville, are set to provide companies with the capabilities needed to successfully service their clients in south Texas and around the world.”

The GEOTRAC Industrial hub’s multi modal capabilities make the warehouse park an attractive and successful venture for Majestic Realty.

“These warehouses will provide companies with the benefit of deep water access and direct connections to multiple Class-I rail carriers, in addition to overweight truck access to and from Mexico. This creates a unique ability to ship products almost anywhere at affordable rates,” said Majestic Realty Co. Senior Vice President and Director of Acquisitions and Development Brett Tremaine.

In 2014, the port signed a strategic partnership with OmniTRAX to operate the Brownsville & Rio Grande International Railway and develop the GEOTRAC Industrial Hub (GIH). The GIH park features more than 1,400 acres of land suitable for light and heavy manufacturing, logistics, energy services, technology development and export/import warehousing. OmniTRAX is one of the largest, privately-held transportation service companies in North America and an affiliate of The Broe Group.

“This venture with Majestic Realty is a great example of the type of relationship we envisioned when we entered into the public private partnership with OmniTRAX. We look forward to collaborating with our partners to achieve growth and success for the Port and the community,” said John Wood, Chairman of the Brownsville Navigation District.

Majestic Realty Co. is the largest, privately-held industrial developer and owner of master-planned business parks in the United States.


The GEOTRAC Industrial Hub park features more than 1,400 acres of land suitable for light and heavy manufacturing, logistics, energy services, technology development and export/import warehousing. OmniTRAX is one of the largest, privately-held transportation service companies in North America and an affiliate of The Broe Group.

New Officers Join Port Police Department

The Port of Brownsville added two new officers to its police force during the Brownsville Navigation District Commissioners regular board meeting held January 18, 2017.

Port of Brownsville Police Chief Carlos Garcia administered the oath of office to officers Alejandro Saucedo and Jorge Moreno.

Saucedo, 23, from Brownsville, received his peace officer certification after graduating from the Texas Southmost College Justice Institute in 2015. He previously worked as jailer with Cameron County.

Moreno, 27, also from Brownsville, served in the U.S. Army Reserves, having received an Army Commendation Medal and a National Defense Service Medal. Moreno worked as a dispatcher for the Harbor Master Office and resigned in 2016 from his position to join the police academy. He received his peace officer certification after graduating from the Texas Southmost College Justice Institute in January 2017.


Officer Alejandro Saucedo addresses the BND Board of Commissioners January 18, 2017, after being sworn in as port police officer.

Officer Jorge Moreno is sworn in by Port Police Chief Carlos Garcia during the BND Commissioners regular board meeting January 18, 2017.