Posted on July 13, 2022
RAYMONDVILLE, Texas – Port Mansfield could be handling 200 to 400 containers per day before too long.
So says Ron Mills, Willacy County Navigation District’s director. In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service, Mills said he expects the port to be moving between $250-$300 million of trade within the next three to five years.
The growth, he said, is down to the fact that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dredged the port’s ship channel. Previously the “cut” in the South Padre island sand barrier was just three feet deep, barely enough for small fishing boats to negotiate. Now, thanks to the Corps’ work, it has a depth of 17 feet, which allows ocean going barges and tugs to enter the harbor.
“I have about five potential customers where we are past the preliminary stage. We have probably moved into the stage of almost signing paperwork,” said Mills, talking about new business coming to the port.
“There are various types of programs but I cannot get into the details. But, it is probably about $40 million in initial investments. I expect it to bring in about somewhere between 250 and 300 million dollars over the next three to five years, on a regular basis.”
In addition to thanking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mills said he appreciates the funding provided by the state of Texas. “The state has already funded and is nearing completion on what they call a queueing yard, a large five acre area to put containers on.”
Asked what sorts of products the port will be handling, Mills said: “It is a myriad of stuff.” Asked if it was mostly going to be warehousing, Mills said: “No, not at all. In fact, very little of it is warehousing. The queueing yard will have warehousing affiliated to it directly. And that is probably going to be a million square feet of warehousing. The rest of the projects vary.”
Mills said he could not provide full details at this stage.
“There are several other projects.There is a concrete company that wants to come to town and put in a concrete plant, which Willacy County needs just for Willacy County because the closest one is almost 50 miles away in Harlingen. So, there are a bunch of things that are potentially going to happen,” Mills said.
“There is a company that wants to do a steel fabrication place there. To fabricate steel projects. Some other projects that I really cannot get into that are probably going to come into fruition in the next two months that I think will bring in some significant jobs.”
Mills said Willacy County Navigation District’s focus, as it develops Port Mansfield’s commercial potential, is to look south towards Mexico.
“Once they (the Corps of Engineers) gave us water to operate barges in and out of the channel, the people we are talking about dealing with are not people in Corpus Christi. They are not people in Brownsville. We are trying to deal with people in Altamira and Tampico,” Mills said.
“And there is a brand new port that is between Altamira and Brownsville, on the Mexican side of the river that is already at the point of completion that we are talking about dealing with. So, we are talking about ways to take pressure off the (land) bridges, take the traffic off the road, and bypass all that. It should speed up the turn around time an average of one day each way.”
Asked if Port Mansfield will soon be viewed as an international port, Mills answered affirmatively.
“Oh, it will be an international port. It is not going to be anything else. All the people I have been talking to since the day they walked in the door, I have told them, it is great, if you want to do business with Corpus, Freeport, Houston, obviously we would never stop you, you do what you want. But, if you want to make money and you want to be an important cog in this picture, then you need to go south. And so I think they have, almost exclusively… in fact I don’t think they have even looked at a customer to the north. Everything is south of us. I think that is where the port is going to grow and I think that is what the future looks like.”
Asked how much trade Port Mansfield could end up doing, Mills said: “We had an initial study done by an independent firm. It was a standard, canned report. Based upon the number of containers we are talking about, it will be anywhere between 200 and 400 containers per day. That is a lot of potential.”
Easing pressure at land ports of entry
Mills said the Texas Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration should be pleased because his port can help alleviate some of the bottlenecks at land ports of entry in the Rio Grande Valley.
“One of the biggest problems they are having is the slowdown at the bridges, it is causing produce to spoil in the trucks. If they can take that produce to a port (in Mexico) and run it around and bring it to the United States via a marine route and drop it off here, containers full of produce, they could save two days at the bridges. If they can save two days at the bridge, that produce is not going to turn bad before it gets to the warehouse. So, that is one of our biggest changes of direction. We have gone from purely containerized traffic to thinking about produce movement.
New road access to Port Mansfield
Mills said he has to give thanks, also, to TxDOT.
“TxDOT has already funded and approved, for the next fiscal year, a secondary road into town. Now, you go up (State Highway) 186 all the way into Port Mansfield. Well, right as you get into Port Mansfield they are going to put in a bypass out towards the airport area. So that the trucks that go with this new development don’t have to impact the residential community, My whole intent with all this development is to have as little impact on the local community as possible.”
Mills said he has been particularly impressed with TxDOT’s maritime division.
“We have had a really good relationship over the last several years with TxDOT Maritime. Their maritime division is fairly new. It is only about six years old. We have had a lot of good input from them about helping us develop the port. They had a coordinator, her name was Stephanie, she was here from the very inception until last year and she was the one that helped get the queuing yard done. Now they have a new lady called Chris who has taken her spot. That lady has been very helpful in trying to help us get additional funding for the bypass road. She has also authorized us to expand because our initial project for the queueing yard was almost a million dollars under budget, so they are allowing us to do other things, such as put a new water line into the water tower to supply water to the town, because it goes right past that construction site. So, they are helping us out.”
Asked if developing Port Mansfield’s commercial operations would take away business from the Port of Brownsville, Mills said: “We are not touching any of their customer base at all. Brownsville has a lot of room to grow. I know all of them personally and we all get along great. But, our business is based on products and commodities that they do not feel like dealing with or they are not currently set up to handle.”
Willacy County Navigation District utilized the services of consultant Ron Whitlock and his company, The Shepherd Group, to secure federal funding to dredge the ship channel. Following a trip to Washington, D.C., with the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, Whitlock was able to secure the support of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar to push for dredging funds. An initial $17 million was upped to $25 million. Now, an additional $6 million has been pledged by TxDOT to build the new access road and queueing area. Whitlock’s current role is cultivate business leads in Mexico.