May 31, 2023 1044 PM
AUSTIN — A bill to create an official port authority to govern the Presidio International Bridge did not hit the governor’s desk before the end of the legislative session on Monday. The bill’s supporters hoped it would reach the finish line after receiving 143 yea votes in the House on May 19 — but the bill never reached consideration by the Senate.
HB 5400, authored by Big Bend Representative Eddie Morales, was originally the brainchild of Presidio County Judge Joe Portillo. In early March, Portillo petitioned both Presidio City Council and Presidio County Commissioners Court to pass resolutions in support.
Portillo hoped to take advantage of growing interest in Presidio from shipping companies and others interested in exploring alternative routes into Texas from Mexico, diverting traffic from bustling port cities like El Paso and Laredo. “There’s a lot of interest — once this bridge is completed — for this to be the preferred port of entry for many businesses in the Chihuahua area,” he explained.
The bill would have created a legal entity separate from the county and city of Presidio, governed by a diverse set of stakeholders interested in growing traffic on the bridge. The Presidio International Port Authority would have been able to issue bonds, charge fees on the bridge and to serve as a taxing entity.
In addition to Portillo, the first board of directors would have included Presidio Mayor John Ferguson, Cibolo Creek Ranch Manager Tom Davis, Lajitas Golf Resort Managing Director Scott Beasley, Sesar Baeza of Baeza Cattle Company and Isela Nuñez, manager at Pro Customs Brokers.
The board would have also included an international perspective from Sergio Mendoza Vidal, president of Desarollo Económico del Estado de Chihuahua (DESEC).
Portillo was disappointed that the bill, in his words “died on the vine” — but felt that it was just the start of something new. He was planning to continue pushing for the bill to be reintroduced next session and to continue fine-tuning it with help from stakeholders and elected officials.
He knew the feeling of defeat would only be temporary. “There’s a saying in Spanish, ‘Ya ni llorar es bueno,’” he said. “I can’t do anything about [the outcome]. All I can do is keep my chin up and keep moving forward.”
Portillo still feels like there are plenty of positive changes coming to the Presidio Port of Entry. He pointed toward the impending re-opening of a rail line between Presidio and Ojinaga, tentatively set for December 2024.
He was also excited about the progress on the vehicle bridge. Memorial Day Weekend saw large crowds and long wait times at the port of entry — but he predicted that the bridge would be better equipped to handle those seasonal swells after all four lanes are open. The project is slated to be complete in September.
Portillo said that — though the dream of having a quick turnaround on the new port authority had been dashed — he and county leaders would continue searching for ways to improve the bridge without the formalities. “I still believe it’s the future — it has to be the future,” he said. “I’m not just going to let it go.”