Los Indios cold storage unit powers up

HARLINGEN — Somebody just needed to turn the lights on.

The cold storage facility at the Free Trade International Bridge at Los Indios is finished, and local and county officials hope it will become an important — and lucrative — route for Mexican produce flowing into the United States.

The electrical system was hooked up yesterday, and “then from there we can do the punch list and make sure that everything’s operational the way it should be,” Raudel Garza, director of the Harlingen Economic Development Corp., told the agency’s board this week.

The Free Trade International Bridge at Los Indios is jointly owned by Cameron County with 50 percent, and Harlingen and San Benito with 25 percent each. It generates more than $2 million in tolls and fees each year.

The Harlingen EDC has taken the lead on birthing the cold storage facility, which will soon be handed over to the county to administer.

“We are still serving in an administrative, advisory role in terms of … the marketing of the bridge, the marketing of the cold storage inspection facility, the marketing of property around there and here in Harlingen for cold storage facilities, and even some of the operational issues, trying to find the right group to actually do the stevedoring and the right maintenance operators to maintain the equipment once it’s turned over,” Garza said.

“So we’re going to continue to be involved with the county and the cities of San Benito and Harlingen, obviously, in some limited capacity, but for the most part most of our responsibility is complete,” Garza added.

The new Los Indios facility is the culmination of about two years of work by local, state and federal officials.

Once it passes inspection and a walk-through to make sure all is operating properly, the new cold storage inspection facility at Los Indios will provide Mexican truckers with an alternative to the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge.

When a produce truck is sent for a secondary inspection when crossing the border at Los Indios now, the vegetables or fruits packed in the truck are hauled out onto an open dock.

Produce which warms in this unrefrigerated space breaks what shippers call the “cold chain,” and eventually this type of inspection means a shorter shelf life for vegetables and fruits once they reach their destination up the East Coast.

The new refrigerated inspection facility, which has three cooled docking bays, will maintain the cold chain for produce crossing at Los Indios and make it a far more attractive option to shippers.

Presently, the border crossing at the Pharr bridge is not just the most active produce crossing coming into the United States in the Rio Grande Valley, but is the top crossing nationally for Mexican fruits and vegetables.

The Pharr bridge, which already has a cold storage inspection unit, replaced the previous top bridge for produce at Nogales, Arizona, more than two years ago.

Handy Definitions

COLD-STORAGE FACILITY — Allows trucks to open trailers into refrigerated space during inspections to keep fruits and vegetables cold and extend shelf life.

STEVEDORE — A port or truck bay worker who handles the task of loading and unloading cargo.

PHARR BRIDGE — The leading port of entry for trucks hauling Mexican produce, surpassing Nogales, Arizona.

LOS INDIOS BRIDGE — An under-utilized border crossing which hopes to generate more traffic with a refrigerated inspection facility.