Rio Grande LNG meets with school board

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

The Point Isabel School Board of Trustees had a special group of visitors during their regular board meeting Tuesday, Dec. 18.

Six representatives from Rio Grande LNG — the Houston-based energy company seeking to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal at the Port of Brownsville — were in attendance at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Included among them was Ben Atkins, Rio Grande LNG chief financial officer.

After taking care of routine housekeeping matters, including approving the purchase of additional online learning software, and acknowledging the hours board members have invested on training this year, the school board retired to executive session to discuss three matters.

The first two involved “land negotiations,” and personnel matters wherein the board met behind closed doors for a discussion for about three-quarters of an hour before summoning the representatives of Rio Grande LNG.

The third and final executive session agenda item involved “(Discussing) commercial or financial information received from a company related to the project, as, with whom the District may be commencing economic development negotiations.”

The board remained in executive session with the Rio Grande LNG representatives for an hour and a half.

Atkins declined to comment on any specifics of the closed-door discussions, simply saying the company wished to provide the school board with a project update.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lisa Garcia echoed that comment to the PRESS after the meeting. Garcia said the company provided an update regarding the recent publication of the company’s draft environmental impact statement by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

She said the discussions did not involve talk of tax abatements. “No, the purpose of this meeting was just updates from the recently released FERC report,” Garcia said.

“They were just updating the board and (it was) an opportunity for the board to ask questions about that report,” she said.

Asked if the company was interested in again pursuing tax incentives with the school district, Atkins indicated the company might pursue the subject in the coming year.

In 2016, the school board voted to deny submitting an application with the Texas Comptroller’s Office for tax incentive consideration under the Texas Economic Development Act, also known as Chapter 313. The program allows school districts to provide property tax valuation limitations and tax credits to companies seeking to locate and operate within the state.

Of particular note at Tuesday’s board meeting was how quiet and sparsely attended it was. Several parents had attended the beginning of the meeting, when the school board recognized their children for winning the district’s annual Christmas card contest.

After the recognition, however, the parents and their children left, leaving only one member of the public at the meeting. Absent were the crowds of local residents and others who have attended every public meeting in the Laguna Madre region and Brownsville anytime a meeting agenda indicates one of the three LNG companies seeking to locate at the Port of Brownsville will be a topic of discussion.

Since news first broke of the proposed facilities in the spring of 2015, the crowds — made up of both protesters and advocates of the three export terminals — have been fixtures at city and county government meetings, public hearings held by state and federal agencies, and also meetings held by the Point Isabel School Board of Trustees.

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