Port gets ‘clean audit’; Report shows record tonnage and operating revenue

An external, independent audit has confirmed the Port of Brownsville’s preliminary numbers for fiscal year 2018, including numbers showing a 6.6 percent increase in total tonnage from 2017, plus record operating revenue.

The port handled 11.3 million tons of cargo in 2018 and saw total operating revenue of more than $24.2 million, representing a 4.4 percent increase in revenue over 2017 and the first time the port has surpassed $24 million in revenue.

Port Director and CEO Eduardo Campirano said 2018 was the port’s best year ever for cargo and that the Brownsville & Rio Grande International Railroad, the port’s short-line railroad, had its best year ever in terms of moving rail cars “by a significant number.”

Liquid cargo is the primary driver behind increases in tonnage the last few years, followed by steel imports to Mexico, he said. Rent from port tenants, plus wharfage and dockage services, constituted about 80 percent of revenue, Campirano said.

“At the end of the day, most of it comes from maritime operations and real estate operations,” he said.

A one-time payment of $1.5 million from the Valley Crossing Pipeline project for traversing port property helped push revenue past $24 million for the first time, Campirano said.

About 90 percent of the port’s business is related to trade with Mexico, he said. That includes steel imported from countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Russia, and gasoline and diesel from domestic and foreign refineries — premium gasoline from Europe, for example.

“This port is in-transit port,” he said. “We import commodities from other markets and then turn around and export them to a foreign market. That’s nature of our business.”

Campirano said there’s no guarantee the port will be able to repeat 2018’s success in terms of tonnage, due to a softening of the steel market, noting that cargo numbers for 2019 are down compared to the same period last year. Revenue is looking up, though, he said.

“We don’t know if we’re going to make the cargo numbers,” Campirano said. “However, our revenue is running ahead of last year. While we may not make next year’s numbers on cargo, we’re going to be better on operating revenue than in 2018.”

Lorena Hernandez, the Brownsville Navigation District’s director of finance, said the “clean audit” by Carr, Rigs & Ingram auditing and accounting firm shows that BND management is “presenting and publishing accurate data, that there are no material misstatements and that we are safeguarding the assets of the district.”

The audit firm issued an opinion that BND’s financial statements were presented fairly and according to standard accounting principles, and that “BND is providing truthful records and reporting precise numbers.”

On June 6, the port was issued a key permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to proceed to the construction phase of a project to deepen the Brownsville Ship Channel, which gives deepwater access to the port, to 52 feet from its current 42-foot depth.

Brownsville has the only deepwater seaport directly on the U.S.-Mexico border. With 40,000 acres of land, BND is the largest land-owning public port authority in the United States.