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Whitlock wins praise for securing an additional $15.9 million to dredge Port Mansfield

Posted on June 26, 2024

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not have the money to dredge the Port Mansfield ship channel. Its survival as a sports recreational fishing and commercial port was in peril.

RAYMONDVILLE, Texas – Ron Mills, port director for Willacy County Navigation District, said it’s a miracle that Port Mansfield is still operating as a sports recreational fishing and commercial port.

He then qualified this statement by saying: “Well, actually, it’s all thanks to Ron Whitlock.”

Mills explained: “As he did a few years back, radio and TV broadcaster Ron Whitlock has come through for us. He has engaged with our local members of Congress, our U.S. senators, and the White House, to get important things done. I think it is fair to say that without his intervention, we would not have received the $16 million the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to dredge our ship channel.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for dredging Port Mansfield’s ship channel, otherwise known as the Mansfield Cut. This allows the Laguna Madre to be replenished with sea water from the Gulf of Mexico, which the Laguna Madre must have so as to lower salinity levels. With that, fish multiply and thrive.

The Corps needed $16 million to dredge the channel, but it did not have the money. Mills said Whitlock, through hard work, personal connections and interviews with leading politicians, was able to get President Biden to add it to the White House’s 2024/2025 budget.

“If we had not received the $15.9 million for the Army Corps through Ron working with the members of Congress and senators and, ultimately, the White House, we would not have been able to continue as a commercial port. In fact, there were already multiple people approaching me and telling me they were going to have to move their boats somewhere else, because they were not able to get out to sea,” Mills told the Rio Grande Guardian.

Willacy County Navigation District’s Port director, Ron Mills.

Mills said if the federal money had not come through, he would probably have had to ask the WCND board to borrow and ultimately pay back $10 million.

“In fact, the Willacy County Navigation District had already drafted a letter to send to the US Army Corp of Engineers, promising them $10 million dollars, out of our pocket, to pay for the dredging work. I am not exaggerating. This emergency dredging needs to be done right now. Miraculously, or should I say thanks to Ron, the $15.9 million came through. Ron was able to work his magic again.”

Over the past four or five years, Mills said, Port Mansfield has received $55 million for dredge work and infrastructure improvements. “Ron helped secure much of it,” Mills said.

Letter to the White House

Mills said it was Whitlock who encouraged WCND to send a letter to President Biden. Here is a copy of the letter:

March 1, 2024

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington DC 20500

President Biden,

Accompanying this letter, you should find a carton of the Rio Grande Valley’s famously delicious grapefruit. You had the opportunity to visit the Valley yesterday. We would have loved to have had the opportunity to visit with you whilst you were in our region.

We are providing this note to enlighten you and your staff on a critical issue that is affecting us here in Willacy County, Texas. Willacy County has historically been considered the poorest county in the state of Texas.

We at the Willacy County Navigation District, are making huge strides to facilitate new corporate development and jobs throughout the county and region. We have signed the first commercial contract to facilitate the direct importation of products from Mexico to the United States through our port and are expected to begin the importation within the next 12 months through a container-on-barge service.

The Army Corps of Engineers has identified a capacity of some $16 million in needed dredge services to maintain our channel to provide the barge services. I am aware that your White House budget is due to the Corps of Engineers on or about March 11, 2024.

It will be greatly beneficial to the district, the citizens of Willacy County and overall, the entire country to ensure that the dredging takes place so that we have jobs and economic growth in Willacy County can begin.

Additionally, we are applying through the MARAD and EPA to ensure that our greenfield startup port activities include exclusively green electric infrastructure and improvements to ensure that our port at Port Mansfield begins with and sets the standards of a green port in the United States.

Thank you in advance for any consideration that you are able to afford the district and the residents of Willacy County.

Ronald D. Mills

Executive Port Director

Willacy County Navigation District

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Perspective

Col. Rhett A. Blackmon, commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District, said:

“Port Mansfield has long been prepared to embrace growth and opportunity. With the recent appropriation of $15.9 million from Congress, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is eager to contribute to the port’s future success.

“A work plan appropriation is an important recognition in the ongoing effort to sustain the growth and development of this unique port. With its strategic location near the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW), the port offers significant opportunities for future maritime operations and economic diversification.

“The FY2024 funding authorizes USACE to move forward, in a sustainable way, with stakeholders on developing the local dredging plan and determining dredge material placement areas. Over the coming months, we intend to restore the depth and width of the channel, which will enhance Port Mansfield’s key role in the local economy and the broader maritime landscape.

“The Galveston District is committed to being good stewards of taxpayer dollars and the environment, using creative and innovative approaches to ensure projects are completed on time, on budget, and that they are built to last.

“As ‘Champions of the Texas Coast,’ the Galveston District plays a key role in America’s well-being by keeping Texas’s waterways open and ready for navigation and commerce, enhancing the long-term prosperity and success of Texas.”

Michael Connor, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, said:

“The FY 2024 Work Plan for Army Civil Works continues this administration’s ongoing commitment to fund crucial infrastructure projects and build resilience in a changing climate. Its investments in our coastal ports and inland waterways will strengthen the economy and help maintain our farmers’ competitive advantage in the global marketplace.” said Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

Neil Murphy, USACE SWG chief of public affairs, said:

“Evidence of existing commercial contracts is an important factor in determining local stakeholder commitment during the budgeting process at the highest levels of government. Government/Public confidence in funding infrastructure projects increases when communities and non-federal entities also invest in their future. Coastal ports and inland waterways are often where the rubber meets the road when strengthening the economy and building for the future.”

Ron Whitlock’s Perspective

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez and veteran broadcaster Ron Whitlock.

Ron Whitlock is a veteran radio and TV broadcaster who now focuses largely on public policy advocacy. In an interview with the Guardian, Whitlock said thanks must go to President Biden, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, and U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez for securing the dredging funds. He said his experience in the media world and interviewing skills helped.

“It all starts with the interview. In my case it was “The Gentle Giant of South Texas, Radiant Radio K-RIO!!” The half a billion dollars LBJ gave my collaborators (Congressman Kika de la Garza, businessman Glen Roney and I) to fix the entire RGV Floodway System, including the diversion dam at Mercedes, which had failed and sent a wall of water down the Arroyo Colorado destroying much of Harlingen, came out of a K-Rio interview at the Harlingen Force Base during Hurricane Beulah.

“It starts with preparation for the interview; in order to advance an agenda that’s going to serve the community, to serve the poor for education and highways, those kinds of things. It is all about the interviews.”

In the case of the $15.9 million, Whitlock said the success could largely be traced to the letter WCND sent to the White House and an interview he conducted with Sen. Cornyn and Rep. Gonzalez at the Gateway Bridge in Brownsville in early April.

“Willacy County Navigation District board was going to have to borrow $10 million to give to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge Port Mansfield. They decided against doing this because of an interview we did at one of the land ports in Brownsville. This was followed by visits soon afterwards by the staff of Sen. Cornyn and Rep. Gonzalez,” Whitlock said.

“In my news conference interview, I explained to Senator Cornyn and Congressman Gonzalez that all their work helping Port Mansfield to get dredging funds over the last four years would be for naught if we did not get an additional $16 million. And all the commercial, job creating projects that we were anticipating coming into the port were all going to disappear. As a result, the senator and congressman, along with Congressman Henry Cuellar got to work. The miracle was the fact that public policy advocacy journalism is what brought in the money ultimately and saved the port.”

Whitlock said his skills were honed during a time when public policy advocacy journalism meant something.

“When I started out, I was representing the federal license mandates to serve the needs, concerns and interests of the community, via KRGV TV 5 NBC; K-RIO AM 910; K-SOX AM 1240 and then, with Glen Roney’s help, through building and founding K-DUV FM 100.3, which now is K-TEX. These stations were required to serve the community. It was that simple,” Whitlock said.

“Sadly, President Reagan got rid of the Fairness Doctrine, which removed the responsibility for broadcasters to comply with the 1936 Communications Act. This required the users of the public airwaves to operate in the ‘public interest, convenience, and necessity.’ It was a sad day for public policy advocacy journalism when the Fairness Doctrine ended.”

Congressman Gonzalez said now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has the money to dredge Port Mansfield, it is up to port officials not to let the ship channel shoal up again.

“Now, the challenge is going to be to keep it dredged, which means the Port has to bring commercial ships through there, or some kind of activity, to keep it open. Otherwise, if it closes again, it is going to be hard to get those resources again. It has already happened once so they (the Army Corps) are upset about it,” Gonzalez said.


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