U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona got a first-hand look last Wednesday at how congestion at the Douglas Port of Entry adversely affects the local economy and underscored the “need to modernize”.
Kirkpatrick said that the Douglas POE is among the top seven port-of-entry construction projects listed by the General Services Administration, which is eyeing $1 billion to be disbursed among those ports.
Estimated costs for local improvements exceed $200 million.
On Wednesday, April 17, the congresswoman began her day meeting briefly with a group of local high school students at City Hall assuring them that she would do all that she can to help bring better jobs to Douglas. She then headed to the border where Port Director Michael Quinonez and Guadalupe Ramirez, director Field of Operations in Tucson, provided a tour to demonstrate operational intricacies.
Kirkpatrick saw the long line of trucks waiting to enter the U.S. from Mexico all loaded with commercial goods, waiting to be funneled into one lane; the same with the pedestrian traffic coming in to purchase goods in Douglas.
“It was so helpful for me to see the congestion, both on the commercial side and on the pedestrian side,” she said. “I was told that today was not as bad as it typically is. … It’s a really difficult situation for Douglas. It definitely has an economic impact on the community. There is no question we need to modernize that port of entry.”
Mayor Robert Uribe, along with Interim City Manager Jerene Watson and several members of the city council, took Kirkpatrick out to the United States-Mexico fence line on James Ranch Road; the future site the proposed commercial port of entry. There Cochise County Supervisor Ann English explained how the project is scheduled to move forward.
Then it was off to Cochise College for a “Port of Entry Summit” with local leaders to discuss a plan to create the second port of entry for commercial use.
J.D. Rottweiler, President of Cochise College, said he felt it would be fitting to host the congresswoman in the conference room of Aviation Building because in aviation, it’s all about getting things “off the ground and Cochise College wanted to be that yoke that brings everyone together.”
Mayor Uribe cited the congestion problems facing the port, while at the same time praising the men and women working there saying they are doing a “fantastic job” under difficult circumstances.
Kirkpatrick said, “I am completely committed to helping you with your port of entry,” adding that economic development is a top priority of hers. “I support the two-port-of-entry solution. It’s clear to me, from the visit I had today we need a commercial port and we need a separate pedestrian port and they both need to be state of the art.”
Kirkpatrick, who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, told the group of leaders that the Douglas ports of entry are a priority for the GSA.
“The GSA has included the Douglas ports on their top seven priority ports, with a money commitment of about $1 billion, which would be spread out among those seven,” she said. “Douglas is on that list and that’s good news for us.”
The congresswoman added she is impressed how well this community comes together, works together, everybody rowing in the same direction.
“I want to take one of those ores and row with you,” she said. “We see an opportunity for Douglas, for Cochise County and we’re not going to let it pass. We’re going to roll up our shirt sleeves, work together and make it happen.”
Marcelo Rascon, the owner of purposed land for the second port of entry on the Mexico side, attended the meeting at the college. He has agreed to donate about 140 acres to the project and called it a “win-win” for everyone.
“Hopefully, this port will detonate the whole area with an abundance of new work,” he said. “Everybody from my community is for it. It’s not only the people but the industries. Everyone is held back from a lot of investment as a result of the situation (traffic congestion and not enough job opportunities in the area).”
Rascon said this has been a long journey and he has been on board for 16 years or so. The economic climate just wasn’t right until recently.