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The city of Mission has taken a step forward on the Madero Bridge Project.
This week, the city council met to discuss the hiring of a consultant for seeking a Presidential Permit renewal required for the Madero Bridge Project. Following an hour in executive session, council approved the direction given by City Attorney Gus Martinez.
The Madero/Reynosa International Bridge has been a project on Mission’s radar for years. The last feasibility study conducted, which does not include a railroad component, is four years old.
Several meetings and workshops have been held in Mission to determine how the project will be conducted and funded. Originally, the city was in an interlocal agreement with the cities of McAllen and Hidalgo, in which each municipality had a fairly equal stake in the venture.
The interlocal agreement was changed, however, to reflect new allocations: Mission had a 37 percent stake of the project, while McAllen had 33 percent and Hidalgo 30 percent. Mission would have been responsible for covering the construction, and McAllen and Hidalgo would repay Mission through tolls once the bridge is completed.
Mission City Council members did not agree with the new allocations, citing a lack of funding in the budget to bear the brunt of initial costs. With their Presidential Permit set to expire in June 2021, Mayor Armando O’caña and the council began looking into other options.
They’ve met with a private equity firm (Fino Advisors LLC) to discuss the potential for securing a public-private partnership to fund the studies and construction required. No updates have been given regarding their status, but the idea of a 50-year return on the project left the firm and investors hesitant to move forward.
Mission then entered into an interlocal agreement with the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority (HCRMA) after some back-and-forth and a few meetings.
The interlocal 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.
It was approved at the end of January this year, pending the city’s hiring of a consultant to represent the city of Mission in advocating for an extension of the Presidential Permit, which was originally granted in 1978. Prior to the agreement, Rigo Villarreal acted as a consultant through the Anzalduas Bridge Board.
The city of Mission paid Villarreal $5,000 per month for this service, and was reimbursed $2,500 monthly from the Anzalduas Bridge Board. Villarreal resigned from the board earlier this year, and submitted a new bid to continue acting as a consultant on the project for Mission.
Villarreal is the brother of Everardo “Ever” Villarreal, who was recently elected commissioner of Precinct 3. According to Martinez, Rigo Villarreal was the only applicant for this bid.
“We only got one bid – from Rigo,” Martinez said. “We had a pretty big conference two weeks ago, and there were actually three or four other firms that came in – to ask questions about the scope of work – and they all had the same concern.”
Their questions were regarding the contract – they asked if it was just consulting on the permit, or would also entail being involved with the procurement of all the environmental and engineering studies. When city leadership explained it would just be for the permit, the other firms backed out.
“They want to get into the big meat of doing the bridge,” Martinez said.
As a consultant, Villarreal will represent the city for the extending of the Presidential Permit and coordinate meetings with the Department of State, Customs and Border Protection, General Services Administration, Coast Guard, Corps of Engineers, Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority, International Boundary and Water Commission, Railroad Commission, members of U.S. Congress, work closely with liaisons in Mission, McAllen and Hidalgo and coordinate activities in Washington, D.C.
Because the city has not finalized a contract with Villarreal, they are not sure how much he will be paid monthly as a consultant and what parameters the contract will include. According to Martinez, the council is considering hiring him and evaluating the need for a consultant in this regard every three months.
“The direction was to move forward with Mr. Villarreal under certain parameters,” Martinez said, noting they would try to negotiate Villarreal down from his initial request of $7,500 per month for his services. “We’re going to enter negotiations. It’s going to be a separate contract.”
Until the extension is confirmed, the HCRMA will not be spending money on the Madero Bridge Project, as noted following the approval of their interlocal agreement. Depending on negotiations, the city may have to increase the area they are reaching out to for consultants if they want to extend the Presidential Permit.