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Port of Brownsville Ready for 2019 Hurricane Season

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — The Port of Brownsville is prepared for hurricane season.

During hurricane season, June 1 through Nov. 30, the Port of Brownsville operates under the U.S. Coast Guard’s Port Hurricane Condition IV, with all emergency equipment inspected and personnel prepared for severe weather events.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season will be “near-normal” with 9 to 15 named storms, of which 4 to 8 could become hurricanes. NOAA provides these ranges with a 70 percent confidence.

Two to four of the hurricanes predicted for 2019 could be a category 3 or higher. A category 3 hurricane involves winds from 111 to 130 mph that cause significant damage to property, humans and animals, and can cause extensive inland flooding.

International Seafarer Center: Home Away From Home

The International Seafarer Center provides spiritual respite and access to small comforts for all properly documented crew members visiting the Port of Brownsville since 1974.

The center is led by Chaplain Andreas Lewis, who worked at the center as a chaplain’s assistant from 1981 to 1986 under the guidance of Reverend Will Aten.

Since taking over the center in 2009, Chaplain Lewis has made it a point to board all liquid, bulk and break-bulk cargo vessels calling on the Port of Brownsville, with assistance from the port’s Harbor Master’s Office.

As part of the center, the chaplain meets individuals from all around the world and learns about their lives. Mariners frequently share noteworthy stories about their travels.

“We’ve had a ship come in where a seaman came and showed me, ‘see where that bullet hole is? That’s where pirates shot at us.’ These guys face many dangers depending on what routes they take. We hope that they stay safe and can find ports like this one,” Lewis said.

With the support of the Brownsville Navigation District (BND) Board of Commissioners, the International Seafarer Center went through many transformations and evolved into a comfortable nook for seafarers.

“We had tremendous help through the BND Commission. We had an old trailer located on the entrance of Foust Road and we got rid of that. The commissioners helped move the center into this building, which opened in 2012,” Lewis said.

All properly documented seamen are welcome at the center. The well-equipped facility provides mariners the opportunity to relax in the lounge area or play pool, use the center’s computers and fix a hot meal or drink with the available appliances. Mariners can seek counsel with Chaplain Lewis or partake in a religious service held inside the center’s chapel.

“SIM cards are the most popular item requested by mariners,” Lewis added. These cards can be introduced into any cellphone and help offset the costs of international phone calls to family and friends.

Shore excursions are a regular benefit offered and coordinated by Chaplain Lewis, including area restaurant visits, shopping trips, or just a day away from the routine responsibilities of life at sea. Visiting mariners, can experience the sights and sounds of Brownsville.

Visits to the Seafarer Center are free, with operating income generated by contributions of visiting vessels, local churches, the sale of SIM cards and donations to offset transportation costs. Oversight of the facility is the responsibility of a six-member board.

The center is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays from 3 to 10 p.m. with the courtesy of one hour’s notice.

Landmark Agreement: BND and NextDecade announce partnership to fund channel deepening

The Brownsville Navigation District and NextDecade Corporation announced April 24 a landmark agreement set to transform the business landscape of the Rio Grande Valley.

The Brazos Island Harbor Channel Improvement Project (BIH) Funding Agreement commits NextDecade to privately fund key improvements to the Brownsville Ship Channel. The company will pay 100 percent of the deepening of the ship channel from the Gulf of Mexico to the western boundary of the proposed Rio Grande LNG project site at the Port of Brownsville. NextDecade will also fund the widening of the bend close to the entrance of the Brownsville ship channel to improve navigational safety.

“A wider, deeper channel not only benefits existing and future port customers, it also benefits our LNG partners,” said John Reed, Brownsville Navigation District chairman. “When complete, the deeper channel will make us among the deepest ports on the Gulf of Mexico, enhancing our competitiveness by closely matching the design features of the expanded Panama Canal.”

Planning to deepen the ship channel from 42 feet began in 2007 with a project feasibility study. In 2014, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) completed the feasibility study recommending deepening the channel to 52 feet. Estimates for the deepening project may be up to $350 million-with about 50 percent of the actual total paid for by NextDecade. In December 2016, the U.S. Congress authorized the channel deepening project, making the BIH eligible to receive federal funding.

With the new partnership, the BND expects to pay for the project with a combination of public-private partnership dollars, port funds and federal funds. The BIH project is expected start in the first half of 2020, with completion in 2023.

NextDecade plans to construct and operate the Rio Grande LNG project on a 984-acre site on the Port of Brownsville ship channel. The proposed LNG project could result in significant investment in Cameron County, creating nearly 6,000 direct jobs during construction. Operating at full scale, Rio Grande LNG is expected to contribute more than $500 million annually to U.S. GDP and create approximately 5,000 permanent jobs, the majority in Cameron County.

On April 26, NextDecade received the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the Rio Grande LNG and Rio Bravo Pipeline projects. With the FEIS issuance, the FERC has established a 90-day federal authorization decision deadline of July 25, 2019.

Pending the achievement of further commercial milestones and receipt of a FERC order, NextDecade anticipates making a positive final investment decision on up to three of six trains of the Rio Grande LNG project by the end of the third quarter of 2019.

Construction Milestones at Keppel AmFELS for New Containerships

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Keppel AmFELS reached a pair of construction milestones April 30 in the building of two containership vessels for Pasha Hawaii.

Executives from both companies were joined by Brownsville Navigation District Chairman John Reed and other federal, state and local dignitaries for the ceremonial keel laying for M/V George III and the cutting of the first steel plates for M/V Janet Marie, the two containerships currently being built at the Port of Brownsville. Delivery of the vessels is expected in 2020.

“We are pleased to be able to support the Pasha Hawaii fleet with the design, engineering and construction of the two new dual-fuel LNG containerships,” said Simon Lee, president of Keppel AmFELS. “Texas currently ranks third in the nation for domestic maritime jobs and we are proud to support a thriving skilled workforce in our local community as a leading shipyard.”

The Port of Brownsville is the only place in Texas where deep-draft ships are being built.

“Not only is Keppel AmFELS pioneering ship building at the Port of Brownsville, it’s introducing an entirely new industry to the Lonestar State, helping create 700 high-paying new jobs for our community,“ said John Reed, Brownsville Navigation District chairman. “This partnership between Pasha Hawaii and Keppel AmFELS allows the port to continue diversifying its assets, attracting new customers and industries to our region.”

The new vessels will operate on LNG from day one in service, substantially reducing the vessels’ environmental footprints. Energy savings will also be achieved with a state-of-the-art engine, an optimized hull form and an underwater propulsion system with a high-efficiency rudder and propeller.

Upon completion, both 774-foot U.S. Jones Act vessels will join Pasha Hawaii’s fleet, serving the Hawaii/U.S. trade lane. The Jones Act is a federal law regulating maritime commerce in the U.S. The law requires goods shipped between U.S. ports to be transported on ships that are built, owned and operated only by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

“Construction of the new vessels continues to progress on schedule,” said Pasha Group President and CEO George Pasha IV. “These LNG-powered containerships were designed to support the needs of shippers in the Hawaii trade lane, while minimizing environmental impact in the communities we serve. Adding George III and Janet Marie to our existing fleet will greatly enhance our service capabilities and on-time delivery, marking three generations of service to Hawaii.”

Port of Brownsville Update on KURV’s Radio Show

Port Director and CEO Eduardo A. Campirano was recently a guest on KURV’s radio show “The Valley’s Morning News”.

Campirano spoke about the LNG projects looking to set up at the Port of Brownsville and the Brazos Island Harbor Channel Improvement Project Funding Agreement the Brownsville Navigation District recently signed with NextDecade Corporation.

Listen to the interview HERE

Port of Brownsville Receives Environmental Clearance on South Port Connector Road

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — The South Port Connector Road Project received environmental clearance on April 24, 2019 from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Pharr District Office, advancing the project to the construction phase.

The project is part of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority’s (CCRMA) East Loop Corridor plan.  When complete, the South Port Connector Road will span two miles and will connect Ostos Road at the Port of Brownsville with State Highway 4.

The project will enhance the port’s intermodal connectivity, further facilitating domestic and international trade throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

“The Port of Brownsville is a valuable asset to the Texas economy and a major economic force in the region,” said John Reed, Brownsville Navigation District Chairman. “Infrastructure improvements such as the South Port Connector facilitate our efforts in strengthening the port’s position as the main hub for domestic and international trade in South Texas. Working collaboratively with Cameron County and CCRMA contribute greatly to the success of joint projects like this.”

The South Port Connector project is the result of a strategic collaboration between the port, the CCRMA, Cameron County and TxDOT – all working in unison – to create positive investment opportunities in the region.

“Cameron County and this administration are committed to working with our partners at the Port of Brownsville to ensure that we continue to build the proper infrastructure to attract industry that will provide jobs and a better quality of life for all,” said Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. “I thank the Texas Department of Transportation, the Port of Brownsville and the CCRMA for working on getting the environmental document cleared. The engineering plans are 100 percent complete and funding is in place, paving the way for the construction of the project to proceed. This important project when completed will provide additional access for future development at the port.”

The project will improve traffic accessibility to the Port of Brownsville by providing another entry and exit to and from the port. It will eventually offer direct access to commercial lanes at the Veterans International Bridge.

CCRMA Chairman Frank Parker Jr. stated, “the CCRMA is glad to be a partner with Cameron County and the Port of Brownsville on this very important infrastructure project. The CCRMA prepared the environmental document and coordinated the environmental clearance with TxDOT. This is the first phase of the overweight corridor and we are very excited to have received environmental clearance. We look forward to getting this project under construction in the very near future.”

GOING DEEP: NextDecade Commits to Channel Improvements

BY STEVE CLARK / The Brownsville Herald

Article published Wednesday, Thursday, April 25, 2019

NextDecade Corporation, which plans to build a liquefied natural gas export terminal at the Port of Brownsville, signed a deal Wednesday with the Brownsville Navigation District committing the company to paying for deepening about half of the Brownsville Ship Channel. The project is officially known as the Brazos Island Harbor Improvement Project.

NextDecade said it will pay 100 percent of the cost of deepening the channel from the Gulf of Mexico to the site of its Rio Grande LNG project, which is roughly half the length of the BIH project, which the port began pursuing in 2007. The channel will be deepened to 52 feet from its current 42 feet in order to accommodate larger vessels. NextDecade also agreed to widen the bend near the entrance of the channel. The signing ceremony took place Wednesday morning at the port’s administrative headquarters and was attended by BND and port officials, NextDecade executives, city and county elected leadership including Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez and Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr.

Also in attendance were federal and state officials including Deputy Department of Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette and Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, representatives from the Coast Guard, local economic development leaders, and port workers among others.

Dean Ellis, NextDecade vice president of policy and corporate affairs, said the company doesn’t yethave a cost estimate for its share of the project, but that the company is comfortable committing to the BIH project because of the likelihood it will indeed build Rio Grande LNG and the associated Rio Bravo Pipeline, which will bring natural gas from the Permian Basin to the port.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated the total cost of the BIH project at $350 million. Port Director and CEO Eduardo Campirano said NextDecade’s contribution should make it easier

to secure more funding for the entire project, the importance of which can’t be overstated, he said.

“It is probably the most important project for the future sustainability of the port going forward,” Campirano said. “It’s very significant not only for the port but really for the region as a whole.”

BND Chairman John Reed, in remarks at the ceremony, said that when the project is complete Brownsville will have one of the deepest ports on the Gulf, its competitiveness enhanced by design features closely aligned with the expanded Panama Canal.

In 2007, BND authorized port staff to devise a strategy for executing the BIH project. In 2014, USACE completed a feasibility study that recommended deepening the channel to 52 feet. In late 2016, Congress authorized the project, making it eligible to receive federal funding, which doesn’t mean funding was appropriated.

Reed admitted that getting to this point has been a “long and at times frustrating effort,” but said the project — which will also result in a wider channel — will benefit “future port customers as well as our LNG partners.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Rio Grande LNG project in October 2018, followed by the issuance of air permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. In March, NextDecade executed a long-term lease with BND for roughly 1,000 acres on the ship channel and entered into a 20-year LNG sale-and-purchase agreement with Dutch oil-and-gas giant Shell.

Matt Schatzman, NextDecade president and CEO, said in his remarks that the company expects to announce more commercial contracts in coming months. Rio Grande LNG is on track for a Final Investment Decision — a decision to move forward with the project — late in the third quarter of this year, he said. “This Friday, April 26, NextDecade expects to receive a final Environmental Impact Statement from the FERC, and we anticipate receiving a FERC order approving Rio Grande LNG and Rio Bravo Pipeline in July 2019,” Schatzman said.

He said the company expects to create nearly 6,000 jobs during construction and roughly 5,000 permanent jobs, most located in Cameron County, and said Rio Grande LNG will contribute more than $35 billion to the country’s Gross Domestic Product during construction and more than $500 million a year to GDP once commercial operations begin.

Fully built out, Rio Grande LNG will be the largest planned infrastructure project in Texas, Schatzman said.

“We’re committed to maximizing hiring in Cameron County,” Schatzman said.

Trevino said the county is working with educational institutions, technical schools and the Texas Workforce Commission to train up the workers NextDecade will need for Rio Grande LNG.

He said the company will result in a major boost to the county’s tax base and attract other investment to the region.

“Just this project alone, at full build-out, will double the tax base and valuation of Cameron County,” Trevino said.

 

Brownsville Navigation District Chairman John Reed (seated left) and NextDecade CEO Matt Schatzman, (seated right) sign the Brazos Island Harbor Channel Improvement Project Funding Agreement Wednesday, April 24, 2019, at the Port of Brownsville.

 

From left to right: Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, Brownsville Navigation District Chairman John Reed, NextDecade CEO Matt Schatzman, Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, Brownsville Navigation District Vice Chairman Sergio Tito Lopez and Port of Brownsville Director & CEO Eduardo A. Campirano.

 

Port of Brownsville Update on KURV’s Radio Show

Port Director and CEO Eduardo A. Campirano was recently a guest on KURV’s radio show “The Valley’s Morning News”.

Campirano spoke about several key projects critical to the future of the Port of Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley. These projects will further boost the direct job creation impacts of the port and help transform the overall economic landscape of our region.

Listen to the interview HERE

 

BRG Named Railroad of the Year

The Brownsville & Rio Grande International Railway (BRG) received the Railroad of the Year Award after capping off a record-breaking year in 2018 for the movement of carloads.

The award was presented to Norma Torres, BRG president & COO; Fernando Gonzalez, BRG general manager; and Tony Chavez, BRG vice president of business development, during OmniTRAX’s annual National Leadership Meeting in February.

The recognition is given to the OmniTRAX-managed railroad that performs exceedingly well in each of six core company values.

“We are thrilled to receive this great honor and want to acknowledge that it wouldn’t be possible without the world’s greatest rail team back in Brownsville,” said Torres. “We also want to thank our many partners who helped make this possible – our shippers, the Port of Brownsville, the Class 1 railroads we interchange with and the U.S. and Mexican Customs.”

The BRG reported a nearly 20 percent increase in revenue for 2018 and has experienced a 25 percent year over year carload growth. In 2018, the BRG set a new company record for cars moved in a single year with 46,043 carloads handled by the short rail provider. The previous record was set back in 2006 when it moved 40,113 cars.

The company also scored at the top of the range for culture and values, honesty and trust and teamwork.

OmniTRAX CEO, Kevin Shuba said it was a close call as several other railroads the company manages also had great years in 2018.

“As great as our other rail lines did in 2018, one railroad stood out by pulling together all facets of safety, service, growth and productivity to separate itself from the many other outstanding performances. The BRG really was in a class by itself,” said Shuba.

The BRG provides a consistent, safe and reliable service to Port of Brownsville users with a near spotless safety record, with no non-reportable derailments for 2018 and no Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) reportable derailments since 2002.

Since 2014, OmniTRAX, Inc., under agreement with the Port of Brownsville, has managed the BRG enhancing services for port rail users and connecting shippers and the port to three Class 1 railroads: Union Pacific, BNSF Railway and Kansas City Southern de Mexico for access into Mexico.