By Pamela Cody
Special to the PRESS
Following the actions of neighboring cities South Padre Island and Laguna Vista, the Port Isabel City Commission voted Tuesday night to pass a resolution supporting the annexation of the Laguna Madre area into the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization.
A metropolitan planning organization (MPO) by definition is a local decision-making body that is responsible for overseeing the metropolitan transportation planning process. Currently, there are three MPOs in the area – Brownsville, Harlingen – San Benito, and Hidalgo County. the RGVMPO agreement will merge all three MPOs into one, encouraging economic development and strengthening transportation systems throughout the region.
Cameron County Commissioner David A. Garza, Precinct 3, addressed the Port Isabel Commission at Tuesday night’s meeting, explaining the need for the resolution to be passed.
“This basically gives us a larger footprint that we can utilize for transportation planning in the area,” Garza said.
“Since then, we’ve asked and gotten support from entities from the upper Valley to include the lower Laguna Madre as a region, because at the end of the day, we want to make sure we encompass all of Cameron County and all of Hidalgo in the planning model.”
Garza went into further detail, saying “Now, the way it is, there’s many state and federal dollars that are not accessible to the lower Laguna Madre area because of the logistics. You have to have a census tract and so many contiguous population numbers in census tracts. Unfortunately this area is removed from those other areas and the only way we can do it is through annexation.”
“I know annexation is a bad word, in many ways, but in this case, it’s a good thing,” Garza noted, adding “because it would give us the ability as an MPO – it doesn’t give you a seat at the table because that’s just the way it is, the numbers are not there – but it gives you the ability to be able to go into the future and access dollars for planning purposes which could mean second accesses, renovating of the causeway, Highway 100 issues that come up, those things would become part of a network of transportation infrastructure that would qualify for new state and federal funding,” Garza concluded.
After hearing Garza’s presentation, the commissioners voted to approve the resolution of annexation of the Laguna Madre area into the RGV MPO.
In other city business, the commission approved City Manager Jared Hockema to travel to Austin the week of November 19 to testify at the contested case hearing for Texas LNG, a proposed liquid natural gas export plant in the Port of Brownsville area.
Hockema addressed the commission, saying “I was subpoenaed as a witness on behalf of the city, so I have to be there to testify. We have our fingers crossed, hopefully it turns out well for us.”
Hockema said the city has examined Texas LNG’s air quality permit applications to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) very closely and found a lot of issues with their application: errors, missing data, assumptions that shouldn’t have been made – and feels that greater weight or consideration should have been given by the TCEQ under its own rules that perhaps they have in granting this permit.
Hockema went on to say “I think the process of examining this application has really highlighted issues that, frankly, if we’d had the resources we would have pursued with the other two companies, but also showed us what we need to do with those two companies, and having permitted this one is also granted, going forward to monitor them, to make sure they comply with what they say they’re going to do.”
The city manager concluded his summary of the situation, saying “I think it’s really showed us a lot of things that we need to know, but we’re going to continue, this is just one step of this fight against this installation. The city intends to continue very vigorously contesting the potential development of this LNG (export plant), particularly this one that is so close to Port Isabel, with all the issues that it could bring to us. We’re hoping for a positive outcome.”
In other news, the commission approved one-time salary adjustments in recognition of the holiday season, with $50 bonuses for Thanksgiving and $100 bonuses for Christmas for city employees. Also approved was the closing of all city offices, with the exception of the police and fire departments, to be closed for the holidays on Monday, December 23, and Monday, December 30, 2019. The commission also voted to approve David Wolverton to the position of Cameron Appraisal District Director.