City takes new focus on POE project

Plans for an improved and expanded port of entry continue to sit at the forefront of priorities for the City of Douglas.

The city is calling the construction of a new port of entry a tool in the region’s efforts to promote economic development and investment.

After nearly a decade of efforts toward this proposed expansion project, officials from the city are regrouping to focus on the short-term goals before delving into the long-term issues that could require tens of millions of dollars of investment.  

These long-term goals include a new commercial port facility, the implementation of progressive and innovative trade methodologies, technology and bi-national trade practices.

During a council meeting, held July 12, city-appointed consultant Luis Ramirez of Ramirez Advisors, gave an update presentation on border crossing facilitation activities.

Since Ramirez last stood before the council, last February, his team has worked to elevate the priority of the modernization of the Raul H. Castro Port of Entry

“It’s a facility that’s in desperate need of improvement and investment and I believe we can confidently say that we’ve been able to do it,” said Ramirez. “We’re in the process of requesting a feasibility study...to be conducted this fiscal year, which could actually start by the end of this calendar year.”  

During a project stakeholder’s meeting, held in April, officials from Customs and Border Protection confirmed that the modernization of the port of entry is slated into the Capital Improvement Projects 5-year Plan for 2020, for a total of $42 million.

Additionally, Ramirez Advisors has continued efforts to relocate commercial operations to a new port of entry, west of the Raul Castro port, on land owned by the City of Douglas.

“We’ve enjoyed a tremendous amount of local, state, federal, binational support for what we’re trying to do,” Ramirez said. “We’ve also garnered a lot of support from our congressional offices...and perhaps more importantly for the long term of the project, is the partnership we have been able to develop with our partners on the Mexican side.”

Ramirez described the current situation at the Douglas/Agua Prieta port.

“The port of entry is landlocked on the Mexican side, there’s simply no space for significant improvement, particularly when it comes to cargo operations,” said Ramirez.

The consultant also pointed out that the port, on both the U.S. and Mexico sides, are located in the downtown area of both communities.

“That presents a tremendous amount of challenge particularly with the crossing of a lot of hazardous materials and chemicals that cross through the middle of both cities,” Ramirez said.

As there is little room for separation of traffic modes, Mexico indicates that all major commercial operations projects need to be outside of populated areas.

Ramirez continued to express the importance of the project by referencing a recent study by the Sierra Vista Metropolitan Planning Organization. A survey of more than 1,500 border crossers through the Raul Castro Port of Entry was completed earlier this year, and indicated that up to 80.9 percent of the people that cross at Douglas are frequent crossers (more than 2 times per week).

The survey confirmed that for travelers the principal destinations like Sierra Vista, Tucson, and Phoenix increase the regional importance of the port.

The number one reason for crossing is shopping, meaning that the retail and service sectors greatly depend on the Mexico visitor, Ramirez said.

Average expenditures were reported at $196 per person per visit, or an estimated economic impact to the City and County of over $740 million each year.  

Ramirez also presented a single project map that has been adopted by both the state of Sonora and Arizona, through the departments of transportation of both states, that identifies key ports of entry projects. The plan includes both the modernization of the existing port and the construction of a new commercial facility at Douglas/Agua Prieta.

The project is also part of the Arizona-Sonora Border Master Plan, which was presented during the Arizona-Mexico Commission Summit in Hermosillo.

In order to assist in facilitating congestion issues at the port, the council recently approved in April the submission of a proposal under the Donation Acceptance Program to CBP, for additional land near the existing port.

The donation would relieve congestion inside the port’s commercial compound, and would provide a dedicated space for official and personal vehicles, as well as space for staging southbound trucks that participate in the Unified Cargo Processing program.

To address needs to relocate commercial operations out of the downtown area, Ramirez presented a conceptual design for a new commercial port, which was prepared a couple of years ago.

“It would be designed as a state-of-the-art facility, with the latest in technology,” said Ramirez. “[This image] serves as a foundation for how we can move forward.”

The consultant highlighted that the facility would be the first and only port in the United States to deploy a Unified Cargo Processing method of inspecting commercial trucks. The process, in which both U.S. and Mexican customs operate within a single facility, allows the single inspection of a commercial truck which saves hours of wait time. The process has already been adopted at the current port.

“It’s a tremendous achievement for the community and we’re hoping that on the long-term basis it will offer a lot of efficiencies,” Ramirez said. “We believe that if the U.S. Customs and General Services Administration talks about the physical infrastructure of a new port of entry, that is designed to embrace the Unified Cargo Processing as a single facility, conceptually it eliminates a lot of redundancies.”

In conclusion, Ramirez listed some of the events his team and the city has attended recently to present the urgency of the port of entry project.

These include the US-Mexico Joint Working Committee Meeting held in Mexico City last March,

The Border Mayors forum held in Phoenix last April, the Border Congressional Briefing held in Phoenix last May, the Binational Bridges and Border Crossing in Washington D.C, also held in May, and the Transportation Committee meeting of the Arizona-Mexico Commission Summit held in Paradise Valley last month.

The consultant explained that the city is now looking at broader economic development strategies that promote the retail and service sector. This includes promoting industrial developments and warehousing and distribution centers on the Arizona side.

Ramirez closed by commending Governor Doug Ducey, and his support of the project.

“Our governor has truly emerged a leader on why trade is so important for Arizona and the United States,” he said. “He’s taken our message to key decision makers in Washington D.C. and to all the governors throughout the country.”

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