By Luis F. Carrasco Arizona Daily Star
The years-long effort to build a new commercial port of entry to help alleviate congestion and boost economic development hit another setback recently, but stakeholders are not giving up.
Earlier this month, the City of Douglas received a formal response from the federal government rejecting its proposal to donate up to 80 acres and build the infrastructure needed for a new port, said Mayor Danny Ortega Jr.
“We wanted to build it and lease it back to the government, then after a 20 or 30-year period, depending on the terms of the lease, they would get full ownership of the port,” he said.
Under the 559 Donation Acceptance Program, Customs and Border Protection and the General Services Administration are allowed to receive donations from private and government entities, but the city’s lease proposal does not fall within program guidelines.
“They wanted a full donation and at this time we don’t have the funds to do that,” Ortega said.
The city would have issued bonds to cover the cost of the project, about $47M, which would have been paid through the lease agreement and possible tolls. Without a locked-in repayment source it is difficult to justify the risk to the city, officials said.
Over the last few years, city officials have tried to find alternate funding sources for a new port of entry after shrinking budgets and sequestration meant federal money might not come through soon enough, if at all.
Sitting back and doing nothing is not an option for Douglas, which depends heavily on its neighbors across the border in Agua Prieta and beyond, said City Manager Carlos de la Torre.
Officials want to build a new port a few miles west of downtown and shift commercial truck crossings there. This would prepare Douglas to receive more commercial traffic and alleviate congestion at the current port, making it easier for shoppers.
Although the denial of the city’s proposal was disappointing, Ortega said they will continue to look for ways to make a private-public partnership work, even as they hold out hope that the federal government comes through with the funding.
“We’re still not giving up on the political end, especially U.S. Rep. Martha McSally has been very strong in supporting us on this,” he said. “We’ve visited Washington and been told many times it’s a good project, it’s a needed project; it’s just a matter of getting the right stars aligned.”
The obstacles to funding the port are frustrating, McSally said, especially because it is clearly a good use of resources.
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