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Mission’s Madero Bridge Project still up in the air

The status on the Mission/Madero-Reynosa International Bridge is still pending.

The presidential permit to build the rail bridge is on the verge of expiring, environmental and feasibility studies conducted in the area are out of date and interlocal agreements with other municipalities have been tabled multiple times. Last week and this week council met to discuss other financial plan options for the project.

Last Friday morning, a conference call drew a quorum of city council members (Ruben Plata, Jessica Ortega-Ochoa and Mayor Pro-Tem Norie Gonzalez Garza) to the Mission Center for Education and Economic Development. Council member Beto Vela and Mayor Armando O’caña were not able to attend, but were briefed on the potential financial plan for the project before and after the call.

Rene Ramirez, the Chief Executive Officer for Fino Advisors LLC, was part of the conference call. Fino Advisors, a power trading fund in partnership with a multi-billion dollar international private equity firm, expressed an interest in possibly developing the Madero Bridge as a vehicular or vehicular/rail bridge.

Fino requested existing feasibility studies and reports from the city, which they looked over prior to the conference call. Based on what Ramirez had to say, however, the development of the bridge is still up in the air due to the uncertainty with the presidential permit.

This Monday, the city council met before the regular called meeting for a workshop regarding a potential interlocal agreement with the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority (HCRMA), as well as a presentation by Ramirez on a potential public-private partnership with Fino Advisors LLC.

HCRMA Interlocal Agreement

The interlocal proposed between Mission and the HCRMA specifies the responsibilities of both parties. Mission’s duties would include the advanced project development work (funding), work authorizations, feasibility analysis, the extension of the permit, the facilitation of studies, right-of-way-records and the environmental process as well as a United States sponsor overseeing Mexican permitting efforts.

The HCRMA would act as the “performance manager,” supervising the services for the advance project development work, contract management and an audit of the services to be provided to Mission.

During the regular called meeting, the interlocal agreement was discussed briefly by the mayor and council before being taken into executive session. Gonzalez Garza was concerned about the environmental studies becoming too “stale.”

O’caña was adamant that the interlocal be signed, saying that in private meetings with the state department he was assured they would honor the existing environmental studies if the city is granted an extension on the presidential permit.

“I am not against the bridge, and I want to make that clear,” Gonzalez Garza said. “I believe that a bridge does have positive economic development effects hopefully here in the city of Mission.”

Gonzalez Garza noted that she had just received some documents regarding the development that day, and was not ready to move forward on approving the agreement. Council went into executive session to discuss the interlocal agreement under legal counsel.

Public-Private Partnership

Ramirez’s presentation to council began with a disclosure statement and disclaimer noting that the contents of the presentation were not signifiers that Fino and the private equity firm would be officially entering any deals with Mission. He also explained how a public-private partnership works.

Public-private partnerships are a collaboration between a government agency and a private-sector company for the financing, building and operation of projects regarding public transportation networks, parks and convention centers.

Ramirez mentioned Fino’s partner on this endeavor, but would not disclose the name of the company due to their “high profile nature.” The company prefers to stay anonymous until Fino and the city are further along in the process, but boasts “over six billion under management” and over 200 infrastructure and renewable energy projects with a total asset value “in the tens of billions” to date.

In the potential partnership with Mission, the trading fund would enter a 50-year concession and pass ownership of the bridge “in good working condition” to the city. According to the presentation, 50 years is a standard return in this type of project. For the life of the agreement, Fino’s partner would operate the bridge.

The presentation also included that any costs incurred before financially closing on the partnership will not be funded by the developing partner, rather the city will be reimbursed “upon a successful financial close.”

In the next weeks Fino (along with the undisclosed company) will be working on the viability of the projects and their estimations based on the current feasibility agreement, which includes growth rates, commercial truck viability and rail value. They intend to up with a plan to either acquire an extension on the presidential permit or check the cost/benefit of applying for a new permit all together.

The RMA’s tabled interlocal agreement will be brought up again, along with other items, during a special called meeting to be held next Wed. Jan. 22 at 4 p.m.

This article originally appeared in the Friday Jan. 17, 2020 issue of the Progress Times.

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