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Port of Brownsville approves agreement with Rio Grande LNG in support of wetlands restoration

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The Brownsville Navigation District (BND) Board of Commissioners has announced a provisional commitment by Rio Grande LNG LLC towards the restoration, enhancement and preservation of the Bahia Grande wetland complex through the expansion of a pilot channel into a permanent and improved source of tidal flow to the Bahia Grande.

Rio Grande claims that the restoration project is contingent on its final investment decision (FID) to build and operate a new liquefaction facility and export terminal at the Port of Brownsville in Texas, US. NextDecade LLC – a Texas-based company – is the owner and developer of Rio Grande LNG.

The agreed upon environmental project would restart restoration work, which previously stalled because of a lack of funding. Rio Grande claims that the work would improve water flow and water quality, and enrich thousands of acres of wetlands. The company claims that it would also expand critical habitats for marine life and other wildlife in 10 000 acre Bahia Grande wetlands area. A number of state and federal agencies have noted that the widening of the pilot channel is a crucial step towards restoring the habitat.

John Wood, BND Chairman, said: “The Port of Brownsville has long recognised the vitality of the Bahia Grande as critical to the area’s environmental health.

“This memorandum of understanding with Rio Grande LNG secures the future well-being of this tidal basin which in turn will re-establish balance to the ecological sanctuaries we’ve enjoyed for decades.”

Restoration efforts originally commenced in 2005 with the creation of the pilot channel. This was named Carl ‘Joe’ Gayman – after the former Port of Brownsville Commissioner and initial project sponsor – and was developed to connect the Bahia Grande with the Brownsville Ship Channel.

The Chairman and CEO of NextDecade, Kathleen Eisbrenner, said: “NextDecade is proud to support such a key project in the effort to reestablish the Bahia Grande.

“NextDecade is committed to being a good neighbour, steward of the environment and corporate citizen. We believe that this project will bring significant and lasting benefits to the region, the environment and the economy for generations.”

All of the required permits and approval from the US Army Corps of Engineers have now been secured by the BND. The BND has also secured the requisite construction services from Rio Grande LNG, which would bear the total cost for engineering and construction of the project in conjunction with their facility works.

Under the agreement, Rio Grande claims that the project would do the following:

  • Widen the Carl ‘Joe’ Gayman Bahia Grande Restoration Channel in order to increase tidal exchange and restore more natural salinity regimes in the Bahia Grande.
  • Improve the Bahia Grande area’s natural hydrology and salinity in order to ensure the restoration and preservation of the wetlands habitat for fisheries, waterfowl and other wildlife.
  • Provide the local community with public recreational benefits associated with a thriving ecological zone.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU) was unanimously approved by the BND commissioners at their board meeting on 7 June 2017. Rio Grande LNG is presently proceeding through the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permitting process, and is hoping to commence construction after FID in 2018.

As currently envisioned, Rio Grande LNG claims that its proposed liquefaction facility and export terminal would need up to US$17.3 billion in capital investment (at full build-out of six trains) and employ several thousand workers during construction. When finished, it is expected that the facility will create hundreds of permanent full-time jobs, and potentially generate hundreds of millions of dollars in both state and local tax revenues. In addition to this, the project is expected to provide a substantial boost to the local job market and economy through the further creation of thousands more indirect jobs in Cameron County.

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