Giesbrecht, Ponton attend first Border Trade Advisory Committee meeting of year

AUSTIN, PRESIDIO COUNTY - Texas Secretary of State David Whitley this week convened the first Border Trade Advisory Committee (BTAC) meeting of 2019, bringing together stakeholders from throughout the Texas-Mexico border region to advance initiatives to address challenges related to international trade with Mexico.

Representing Presidio County and the city of Presidio were Jake Giesbrecht and Rod Ponton. Giesbrecht is a Presidio logistics firm owner with interests in Texas and Mexico who also is the Presidio port authority director. Ponton is the Presidio County attorney and City of Presidio attorney.

In his capacity as Texas’ Border Commerce Coordinator, Whitley works closely in conjunction with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and Committee members to discuss strategies for better facilitating cross-border trade, including improving transportation infrastructure, cargo processing, and coordination with public officials in Mexico.

Secretary Whitley began by introducing his vision for the Committee, emphasizing the need for border stakeholders to speak with one voice to address the challenges that affect public entities, businesses, and individuals who rely on robust trade between Texas and Mexico.

“Relationships matter, and the relationships in this room will ensure this committee has an impact, working together,” Whitley said. “Communicating with our local, state, federal, and international counterparts is extremely important, and by collaborating to overcome common challenges, we can ensure this committee can make progress toward an even more prosperous economic future for our border communities and for the State of Texas as a whole.”

After reviewing BTAC activities and accomplishments in 2018, the Committee engaged in a group discussion on the Texas-Mexico Border Transportation Master Plan, including feedback provided to TxDOT on its recent listening tours throughout the border region. The Master Plan, expected to be completed in 2020, is designed to identify transportation infrastructure challenges, solicit feedback from stakeholders throughout the border region, and implement long-term strategies for continuing to facilitate cross-border trade. The committee reviewed extensive input gathered at TxDOT’s public meetings and identified areas in which local, state, and U.S. and Mexican federal officials can coordinate to improve efficiency in the movement of freight, goods, and people at Texas’ 28 ports of entry.

Ponton and Giesbrecht will bring attention the border trade issues of Presidio and Ojinaga, the on commercial port between El Paso and Del Rio. After years of neglect, the Ojinaga-Presidio port of entry is expanding from two to four lanes, and the international railroad bridge is being rebuilt after being destroyed by two arson fires.

Local business owners have said they are thankful for the two bridge projects, but there is still much work to be done because the added lanes at the Presidio port do no good unless port facilities are expanded and staffing is increased to provide for the free flow of people, private vehicles, and commercial traffic.

“Helping Presidio is my avocation,” Ponton said.

Whitley concluded the meeting by leading an open discussion among Committee members and representatives from the Mexican states of Coahuila and Nuevo Leon. As a result of the feedback collected, Whitley agreed to communicate the Committee’s recommendations on addressing delays at border crossings to the Texas Transportation Commission so that Texas can develop strategies to continue facilitating robust cross-border commercial exchange.

The Big Bend Sentinel

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