Port Isabel facility to receive overhaul

PORT ISABEL — Even the smallest Texas port puts down a big footprint.

The Port Isabel-San Benito Navigation District port facility has an annual economic impact estimated at $85.5 million.

Officials hope to improve on those dollar numbers thanks to a new $1 million federal grant announced yesterday which they say will jumpstart a major facility renovation.

“Our ports are very important, and in a lot of ways, they are a very large part of the economic drivers of our communities,” said Jorge Ayala, regional director of the Economic Development Administration.

“Certainly in Texas, all of our ports are huge economic drivers and Port Isabel is one of those.

“So even though it’s small by port standards, the impact is huge,” Ayala added.

Ayala said the renovations at the facility would result in an estimated additional 200 jobs, and would help retain another 350 jobs.

The grant from the U.S. Commerce Department agency was won competitively among infrastructure projects in several states. The Port Isabel facility will partially match the grant with $428,527 of its own money.

What the port will do with the new funding is raze the old Lone Star Hatchery built in the 1980s to incubate tiny shrimp for fattening at the shrimp farm in Arroyo City. Both shrimp facilities have long been defunct.

Between the hatchery land and adjoining land the port also owns, 14 acres will be made available for development for tenants, said Port Director/General Manager Steve Bearden.

The funding also will allow for a new roadway to be built through the facility which can handle heavier truckloads, he said.

“This will continue the growth and continue the economic impact we provide to the area,” Bearden said. “We’ve been putting money away for the last six years to be able to match this grant.”

Victor Barrera, who has chaired the port’s board for the past 14 years, said the renovation at the port will help push the facility in the right direction.

“My main goal when I got to this board 17 years ago was to bring employment, to revive infrastructure for this whole area and to build it to probably one of the best ports we could have,” Barrera said.

“As you know, we are not a taxing entity, we rely on our leases, and stuff like this … it means a lot to us,” he added.

Marisela Cortez, district director for U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, noted the congressman was especially pleased at the grant to the port.

“Congressman Vela was happy to support the funding for this project earlier this year because he knows that the port is an essential economic engine for our entire region,” Cortez said.

As the EDA’s Ayala noted, it isn’t the first time the agency has partnered with the Port Isabel port.

“We were pointing out a dock just to the right of us that was a former EDA grant as well,” he said.

“It’s a very exciting time for Port Isabel and for this whole area, with SpaceX and the expansion of UTRGV and different potential projects that are coming down the pike,” Ayala said. “I think you’ll be very well-positioned to take advantage of those future investments, and having this property available is going to yield some great dividends.”

Port facilities

* Dry bulk

* General cargo bulk

* Petroleum

* Airport

* Bunkers

Port Facts

* The port is one of 12 deepwater ports in Texas

* Depth of channel is 36 feet

* Created in 1929 to lower transportation costs of agricultural products of San Benito and marine interests of Port Isabel.

* Currently serves as home base for more than 17 businesses that employ more than 500 workers.

* Annual economic impact to area is $85.5 million

* Located at 250 Industrial Drive, Port Isabel

* Website is www.portofportisabel.com