By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) was the topic at hand during a joint all-member meeting of the South Padre Island and Port Isabel Chambers of Commerce Friday, Oct. 2.
Chamber members snacked on coffee and pastries inside the ballroom of the Port Isabel Event and Cultural Center (PIECC) while speakers from Texas LNG, Rio Grande LNG, Annova LNG and Save RGV from LNG gave 10 minute presentations following a keynote address from Eduardo Campirano, Port of Brownsville director and CEO.
Guests were reminded in emails prior to the breakfast that the event was not a public discussion, nor would any questions be taken during the presentations. Guests were invited, however, to speak with the presenters on an individual basis afterwards.
Campirano spoke of the functions of the Port, describing the types of industry its facilities currently handle, as well as future development plans. In regards to LNG, however, Campirano devoted only a few seconds to directly discuss the proposed facilities, which have sparked a large outcry of opposition from Laguna Madre residents over the past several months.
“We’ll be here to talk about the Port’s role in this process,” Campirano said at the end of his allotted 20 minutes.
“We are an industrial port,” he said earlier in his presentation. “We have a lot of industry here, and so consequently, a lot of our efforts are geared towards industrial development.”
Campirano also remarked on the fact that the Port is unique in the amount of land availability it has. Geographically, the Port is the largest port authority in the country. “That’s a commodity that’s not available to many port authorities — or many ports — anymore, especially up and down the Texas coast,” he said.
The Port is currently undergoing plans to increase the draft of the Brownsville Ship Channel from its current operating depth of 42 feet to 52 feet, he added. The depth increase, which will have no effect on the width of the channel, will allow larger vessels to make use of the Port he said. “This is going to drive the sustainability of the Port into the future,” he said.
Immediately following Campirano’s presentation, Jim Chapman, with Save RGV from LNG, voiced concerns local residents have about the proposed LNG export terminals. Chapman mentioned concerns that residents of Port Isabel and South Padre Island would be within evacuation zones in the event of an industrial accident.
“The stakes are high. The decision that we make as a community — and it really should be the community that decides, not companies from Houston, Chicago or Korea or FERC — is an important decision,” Chapman said. “We have to weigh these LNG export terminals, and any benefits they may provide — short term construction jobs, mainly — and balance what we have to lose if the plants are built, and there’s a lot to lose,” he said.
Among the comments delivered by the representatives from the three LNG companies, talking points were largely the same. “Contrary to what some may tell you, it’s not a pristine site. It’s been cut up by Highway 48, by the Channel, dredge spoils and non-vegetative areas,” said James Markham-Hill, manager of communications for Rio Grande LNG, of the land where the facilities may be built. “It’s not pristine.”
“What you really need to know … it is an industrial site. That is what you do when you commercialize an industrial ship channel,” echoed Bill Harris, of Exelon Generation, the parent company of Annova LNG, a few minutes later.
Harris showed the Chamber members artist renditions of the Annova facilities superimposed over photographs taken from various points in the Laguna Madre area. The towers were barely visible along the horizon in the photo illustrations.
Trey Lewis, of Texas LNG, showed the Chamber members similar photo illustrations of the proposed Texas LNG facility.
All three representatives stressed the rigorous standards their companies are being held to via the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permitting process. They reminded the Chamber members that the process is a protracted one, lasting at least two years and costing each company tens of millions of dollars as they seek input from dozens of government agencies while assembling reports that analyze the facilities’ potential impacts.
“This is a marathon. It’s not a sprint,” Harris said.
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