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State senator supports public-private port upgrade

May 17, 2012|By ALEJANDRO DAVILA | Staff Writer

A Senate Joint Resolution introduced by state Sen. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, which would affirm Legislature support for a private-public partnership to renovate and expand the Calexico West Port of Entry, got the backing Tuesday of the Imperial County Board of Supervisors.

SJR 16 also presses Congress to enact pilot legislation to allow private-public partnerships to fund infrastructure projects such as the one proposed for the Calexico West POE, according to a report to the board.

Given federal budgetary constraints, “the chances of any federal money being available in the next several years, or through as far as anyone’s crystal ball can go, is slim and none,” said Bob Ham, director of intergovernmental relations.

The rehabilitation of the port, a roughly $300 million project, lost funding from the General Services Administration earlier last year despite millions of dollars spent in planning.

Private entities like San Diego-based Kinsell, Newcomb & De Dios Inc., have already expressed interest in funding the project, but the federal government doesn’t allow GSA to accept private funding.

Meanwhile, the renovation of the San Ysidro Port Entry, a $577 million project, according to the GSA Web site, is well on its way since late 2009.

The SJR letter of support is calling for Congress to allow local governments to find a way to fund these kinds of projects, Ham said to the board.

Under a private-public partnership, a firm would fund the port expansion and once finished, it would lease the facility to the federal government while the debt is repaid.

“Everyone knows the traffic (backed) up there affects the local economy, not just Calexico but the whole Valley,” said Supervisor Ray Castillo.

Castillo also said that the “antique” port infrastructure affects security and that the port is probably one of the main avenues for drug trafficking.

Unless the facility is rehabilitated, “we will continue to be a gateway for drug-smuggling operations,” said Castillo moments before the unanimous vote of support for the SJR.

And while a public-private partnership seems to be moving forward on the county level, some challenges remain.

For instance, it’s unclear what types of federal measures are needed for the public-private partnership to be allowed, according to Supervisor John Renison, who also noted that the federal government is still the primary funding option.

“We never have ruled out federal funding, but it looks very bleak,” he said.

Challenges also remain on a local level, as the county and Calexico are still discussing the details behind this funding option.

“It is obvious that many more meetings have to be held with county officials before the city of Calexico will decide to completely agree with a public-private partnership,” said Councilwoman Maritza Hurtado, who along with Mayor Daniel Romero is involved in the discussions.

“The city of Calexico is and will continue to be at the forefront of any new development within the city of Calexico,” she said. 

Hurtado’s comments come less than a week after the Calexico City Council approved a resolution acknowledging a public-private partnership as a funding possibility.

But according to Calexico’s resolution, the federal government is still the main funding option and this option, according to Hurtado, hasn’t been exhausted yet.

Staff Writer Alejandro Davila can be reached at 760-337-3445 or adavila@ivpressonline.com

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