Done Deal: County commissioners approve tax abatement for Annova LNG

Rio Grande Valley residents protst Annova LNG Tax Abatement Tuesday morning at the Cameron County Courthouse Dancy Building during a regular meeting as the commissioners approve an abatement agreement with Annova LNG Common Infrastructure, LLC.

The Cameron County Commissioners voted in favor of a tax abatement agreement for Annova LNG at a meeting with more than 120 attendees Tuesday morning.

County Commissioners Sofia Benavides, Joey Lopez and Gus Ruiz voted in favor of the agreement while Commissioner David Garza and Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. dissented.

More than 100 attended the meeting inside the Commissioners Courtroom inside the historic Dancy Building. The public comment period at the meeting lasted for more than an hour as residents voiced their opinions about the county giving Annova LNG a tax abatement.

Benavides said all along she has supported job creation for the County and that Annova LNG will pay $100 million to benefit the Port of Brownsville.

“We need to move forward and yes, I am passionate about jobs for my constituents and maybe some of you already work and have retired and it makes no difference; but it does make a difference for families that are separated because they have to leave here to go and find jobs outside this area,” Benavides said to the audience.

Lopez said Annova will pay $500,000 a year for the time of the abatement, which is 10 years. He added the county will receive $39 million over a 15-year period and that there will be new construction and permanent jobs that will improve the economy.

“These are the reasons that I support the Annova program and that’s why I feel it is an opportunity in our best interests, in the County’s and the tax payers.” he said.

Garza said he has a concern with some of the corporations that come and paint a beautiful picture but they come and close the public beaches and try to buy out residents that have lived there for years.

“I am not against economic development but responsible stewardship. I said ‘OK, guys, throw out at least an environmental stewardship agreement, please, into this, where you would give Cameron County an X amount of dollars for the life of this agreement so that we can go and do projects that will improve and litigate some of the issues that we have with the projects that are being done’,” Garza said to the audience. “Guess what? ‘We don’t care about your environment … we don’t care about Cameron County all we want is your tax dollars’.”

More than 25 people participated in the public comment section of the meeting where they expressed their opinions for or against tax abatement, including Annova LNG Chief Executive Officer Omar Khayum.

“We both have a vision for a better and brighter future for Cameron County. How do we deliver it? We create jobs, sustainable, high-paying jobs,” Khayum said. “During the construction of the Annova LNG facility, we plan to employ an average of 700 on-site jobs over the four-year construction period … once the plant is operational, we want many of our employees to come from the local skilled workforce … in total, we expect to employ 165 women and men at the facility with an average base salary of $70,000.”

In a statement after the meeting, Rebekah Hinojosa, Brownsville Organizer for the Sierra Club, said this is a terrible tax deal break that poses a huge environmental risk to the Rio Grande Valley.

“By approving this terrible tax break deal, Cameron County commissioners failed their constituents who will bear the costs of Annova LNG’s polluting facility,” Hinojosa said. “The communities of South Padre Island, Port Isabel, Laguna Vista and Long Island Village have all passed anti-LNG resolutions. Annova LNG would pollute Latinx communities and poses a huge environmental risk to the Rio Grande Valley.”