By Pamela Cody
Special to the PRESS
At its regular meeting on January 23, the Port Isabel-San Benito Navigation District (PISBND) voted against a potentially lucrative new tenant lease agreement with a diesel fuel wholesale company.
The upstart company, OEA Energy, LLC, a wholesaler out of Houston, Texas, approached the PISBND in October of 2019 to present their business plan at their November meeting in hopes of building what would essentially be a diesel fuel terminal/dock facility. After their initial meeting in November, Karla Baeza, OEA Operations Manager, her associate Joseph Ramirez, and their engineer, Diego Lamacchia of Leviticus Subsea, came back last Thursday to offer a more detailed presentation to the commissioners, outlining their business and architectural plans.
Their operation would have barges from the Houston area—and possibly Louisiana—transport diesel fuel to the platform they wished to build in Port Isabel. That diesel fuel would be offloaded into huge holding tanks, and then transferred to fuel tanker trucks destined for sale in various parts of Mexico.
Port Commissioner Victor Barrera questioned the company’s safety plan, with Ramirez attempting to reassure him, saying “We want to follow all the regulations and do things how they’re supposed to be done. We’re very concerned with taking care of the environment and giving back to the community we’re going to be investing in.”
In response to Barrera’s query on the number of jobs the company would bring to the Laguna Madre area, Baeza said initially there would be up to 17 jobs, with the terminal manager position paying between $75 – $85,000 a year, and offering benefits such as health insurance, 401k, and job training.
But the discussion kept circling back to safety, with Barrera persisting in asking about what the company’s plan would be in a worst-case scenario situation, such as a spill. OEA had no set safety plan in place to show the commission, merely assuring them that they would follow all EPA and OSHA guidelines and industry safety measures in order to minimize the risk of a spill ever happening.
The members of the Navigation Commission then went into executive session to discuss the potential tenant lease agreement with OEA, who were seeking a 25-year lease with 5-year options to renew. After deliberating, Barrera and the commission members called Baeza, Ramirez and Lamacchia back into the conference room, where Barrera informed the OEA representatives that the PISBND would not be offering them a lease in Port Isabel.
By way of explanation, Barrera initially said “At the present time, right now, I cannot move forward on this item,” with the other members of the commission unanimously voting to deny OEA’s request for a lease agreement.
Baeza questioned the commission, asking, “Can I ask you, what is the concern for the Port to move forward?”
Secretary Manuel R. Garcia responded, saying “There are various issues, you guys are new to this, and we’re not gonna take a chance at this point with you guys going forward,” he said. “If you’re new to this type of business, we see that as a liability. And also there are some legal issues we might come across down the road.”
The company has only been incorporated since April 2019.
Barrera chimed in, adding “I posted the question to you about safety, when we last met in November. With me being a member of this community all my life, I got to support what they’re saying our there at the present time. Safety, to me, is a big concern, and another issue is not just necessarily the water issue. Traffic flow is another major concern. Being elected to this position here, everybody in the community, their big concern is safety, and I’ve got to respect that.”
Commission member Bob Ostos also weighed in, saying “Since our last conversation in November, we’ve gotten a lot of community feedback. But secondly, in my mind, originally we’d looked at us dedicating this property for another use other than this, but because of the feedback we’re getting from the community, this just wasn’t gonna work out.”