By Gaige Davila
The City of Port Isabel, with Port Isabel Mayor Juan Jose “JJ” Zamora and Port Isabel City Commissioner Martin Cantu, have filed a lawsuit against the Port of Brownsville for its lease agreements with liquified natural gas (LNG) companies.
Texas LNG, Annova LNG and Rio Grande LNG are seeking to build export plants in the Port of Brownsville.
The lawsuit, filed on January 27, 2020, with the 445th District Court of Cameron County, seeks a temporary and permanent injunction—to stop construction and operation—against any LNG facility slated for the Port of Brownsville, written as Brownsville Navigation District in the suit.
The lawsuit alleges that the Port of Brownsville, by offering lease options to LNG companies, has “created a condition that is subversive of public health and that constitutes an obstruction of public rights.”
Port Isabel City Manager Jared Hockema told the PRESS the city has been planning to file the suit for some time, saying the LNG export plants pose environmental and safety hazard risks for Port Isabel residents and the surrounding ecosystem. Particularly, Hockema is worried of air pollution drifting to the Laguna Heights community.
The lawsuit is meant to be served to Port of Brownsville Director and CEO Eduardo A. Campirano. Campirano told the PRESS he was aware of the lawsuit but had not been served it yet and did not want to comment. Texas LNG, Annova LNG and Rio Grande LNG did not respond to requests for comment.
Hockema said an attempt to serve the suit was made to the Port of Brownsville commissioners’ counsel, but they did not want to accept the service on behalf of Campirano. Since the lawsuit’s initial filing on January 27, two amendments were made: one on January 30 and another on February 5. Hockema said the amendments were added to further the city’s cause for suit against the Port of Brownsville.
“We are standing up for our people, our local jobs and our way of life,” Zamora said in a statement from the city. “It is not right for the Brownsville Navigation District or these large companies to try to place such a harmful facility near Port Isabel, especially when the people of this community have been so strongly against it.”
The lawsuit cites the analysis and testimony of David Allen Weeks, an environmental engineer who testified in the City of Port Isabel’s contested case hearing against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality permit issued to Texas LNG. Air contaminants, nitrogen and sulfur deposition, and formaldehyde emissions are among the issues he found with Texas LNG’s project.
Also cited the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Final Environmental Impact Statement on Texas LNG, saying the project, combined with other LNG export plants, would result in “significant cumulative impacts” to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge lands near the Port and shoreline erosion within the Port, in the Brownsville Ship Channel.
The Port of Brownsville has lease options with Texas LNG LLC and Annova LNG Common Infrastructure LLC. A lease option allows a buyer to purchase property after renting it.
Cameron County deed records show the Port of Brownsville and Texas LNG LLC in a lease option for 625 acres within the Port, beginning on December 20, 2015. Annova LNG and the Port of Brownsville executed their lease option on November 25, 2013, initially for 295 acres. On November 25, 2014, the lease option was expanded to 562.31 acres. Annova LNG agreed to pay $432,757.94 for the expansion. Cameron County deed records did not show possible payments from Texas LNG.
Rio Grande LNG, LLC, is the only LNG company leasing land with the Port of Brownsville, with a 30-year, 984 acre agreement with the Port, awarded on March 6, 2019, Cameron County deed records show. Possible payments from Rio Grande LNG, LLC, were not shown in the deed records.
Laguna Vista, Port Isabel, South Padre Island and Long Island Village, along with Rio Grande Valley environmental advocacy groups, have been in opposition to the export plants for the last few years, with opposition rising within the last year, as the companies began receiving operating permits and tax abatements from Cameron County. All three companies have received their Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permits to operate.
“The City is going to continue to fight this project,” Cantu said in a statement from the city. “It is not good for our people or our businesses. Those most affected will be the low-income. I am particularly concerned about the impact these facilities will have on our youth. We are fighting for the future of our community and our children.”