By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
It was standing room only at the Port Isabel City Commission meeting chamber Tuesday night as the Commission was scheduled to adopted a resolution to oppose the development of several Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) export terminals on land owned by the Port of Brownsville.
Dozens of Laguna Madre area residents opposed to the facilities packed into one side of the room, many holding signs of protest, while on the other, LNG company employees and supporters crowded into the remaining space. Stickers stating, “I support LNG” were affixed to the clothing of many of the supporters.
Currently three LNG companies, Annova LNG, Texas LNG and Rio Grande LNG are in the pre-filing process, awaiting the recommendation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to construct export facilities along the Brownsville Ship Channel.
Though the resolution discussion wasn’t slated until late in the agenda, the Commission voted to address it out of order at the top of the meeting. City attorney Gilberto Hinojosa addressed both the crowd and the commission, suggesting that, due to the overwhelming number of people who had signed up to speak during public comments, and in the interest of saving time, that each side consider choosing five representatives to share their opinions.
“This is a democracy and obviously you’re entitled to speak out, but to a certain extent, they are already know,” Hinojosa said, referring to the Commission being aware of arguments on both sides.
The crowd became incensed at the suggestion, demanding that everyone be allowed to speak. “Everybody’s voice counts!” yelled one resident. “We have every right to say what we have to say, and we’re going to say it!” said another.
Calling for order, Mayor Joe E. Vega responded, saying, “I’m not going to let this meeting get out of hand. Everybody here needs to respect each other.”
Commissioner Martin C. Cantu indicated he was in favor of hearing all comments with the stipulation that each person be limited from three minutes of time to two. With people in the crowd voicing support for the idea, the commission decided to hear all comments.
“I am opposed to the building of any LNG facility,” said Port Isabel resident Juanita Stringfield, who was the first to speak. “We own property… we pay taxes, and we vote,” she said.
“I surf here, I’ve lived here. My family has businesses here that have been here for 50 years,” said Christina Salazar a few minutes later. “What LNG is going to bring is pollution. It’s going to kill our tourism. … How many people are going to want to surf in this? How many people are going to want to eat fish from here?” she said. Salazar later stood to leave the meeting. She said a police officer told her anyone who left the meeting would not be allowed back in the chamber.*
Emphasizing local roots was a common refrain among those opposed to LNG, as many of those who spoke questioned the loyalty of supporters they thought were from outside the Laguna Madre region. And while the non-local concern may have been true for some of the LNG company executives and employees who were on hand to make comments, there were also several residents who spoke in favor of the facilities.
“I want to express my support for the LNG facilities for one particular reason: because the educational opportunities it will offer,” said Laguna Vista native Estevan Delgadillo. He spoke of making a choice during a crossroads in his youth: to pursue a career in law or engineering. He said the lack of engineering jobs in the Rio Grande Valley eventually persuaded him to pursue law so that he could ultimately return to the Valley. Delgadillo argued the LNG facilities would create incentives for local education systems to create new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) job opportunities.
Jobs creation was a talking point of many of the proponents of the facilities. “These people are going to be graduating engineers, and they’re going to be needing jobs,” said Brownsville resident Eddie Sikes. He further urged the Commission “not to make a decision until they’ve heard all of the evidence.”
The idea that facts were being skewed was also mentioned by LNG advocates, who repeatedly urged the Commission to table the agenda item until the FERC review process has been completed. Texas LNG co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Langtry Meyer stood before the commission, emphatically stating that the companies are abiding by strict standards and regulations. He urged the Commission to seek facts and to disregard what he termed ‘misinformation.’
“I strongly urge you to table this resolution,” Meyer said.
After the public comments had concluded, Vega offered a comment of his own, reminding the audience of his work with the Cameron County Parks Department, as well as several environmental projects he has spearheaded in the Laguna Madre. He said, however, that he didn’t feel as if he had enough information to make a decision.
Commissioner Juan Jose “J.J.” Zamora said he favored new businesses and development, but that the region was ill-suited for LNG. “It’s in the wrong place,” he said.
Commissioner Maria de Jesus “MJ” Garza spoke of the importance of education and how she felt the facilities would, indeed, foster increased higher education in the area.
Commissioner Jeffery Martinez spoke of his family’s long history in the shrimping industry, and expressed a concern that LNG could negatively impact that trade.
Finally, Commissioner Martin C. Cantu spoke, saying he had added the item to the agenda, to the cheers of those in the crowd who were opposed to LNG. Cantu made the motion to support the resolution of opposition and a vote was taken.
Cantu, Martinez and Zamora voted in favor of the resolution. Vega and Garza abstained, citing the need for more information. With a majority vote, the resolution passed. The Commission plans to enter the resolution into the FERC dockets created for the projects.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story stated Christina Salazar was ejected from the meeting. However, Salazar said she chose to leave voluntarily in response to comments made by LNG supporters.
*Clarification: An earlier version of this story stated Christina Salazar was ejected from the meeting, however, Salazar said she chose to leave voluntarily in response to comments made by LNG supporters.
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