by Adolfo Pesquera
Brownsville (Cameron County) – The Brownsville Navigation District Board of Commissioners came out of a Tuesday evening meeting with a lease agreement with Big River Steel LLC that will open a path for the construction of a $1.6 billion state-of-the-art steel manufacturing plant.
The board–governing body of the Port of Brownsville–signed an option agreement with the Arkansas-based company on 800 acres.
This enables Big River Steel to continue its due diligence pursuant to the company’s interest in developing a LEED-certified steel manufacturing plant, storage and distribution facility, according to a statement released by the Port of Brownsville.
“This is good news for Brownsville and the result of hard work by many individuals and organizations over a long period of time,” said BND Chairman John Wood. “Our rail partner OmniTRAX played an important role in introducing this opportunity. We are excited about this step forward and remain confident the venture will be beneficial for all parties, for Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley.”
The majority of steel products made by the mill would supply the automotive and vehicle components industries in Texas and Mexico.
Video screenshot of the Port of Brownsville. Courtesy of Port of Brownsville.
The opening of the new plant is anticipated to take several years, but once completed and operational it will provide about 500 full-time jobs at an average annual salary of $75,000.
Big River Steel must go through an environmental assessment and permitting process before it can break ground, according to a statement Port of Brownsville CEO Eddie Campirano gave the Brownsville Herald.
Big River Steel decided to open its first steel mill in Osceola, Arkansas in January 2013 and broke ground in March 2015. The plant opened in December 2016, but by the spring of 2017 Big River Steel was already putting plans in motion to expand, and Brownsville landed the opportunity to compete with Osceola for the second plant.
Texas economic development agencies worked to assemble tax deferrals and other incentives to make the Port of Brownsville site more attractive. However, a major factor in the port’s favor is undoubtedly its status as the nation’s largest ship steel recycler; most of the steel goes to factories in Monterrey or Mexico City.
Big River Steel is planning to build a plant identical to the Flex Mill scrap-fed electric arc furnace (EAF) plant it has in Osceola. It was designed to produce 1.7 million tons annually of hot-rolled, cold-rolled, galvanized, and pickled and oiled coil for the automotive sector, substrate for pipe and tubers, and eventually grain- and non-grain-oriented electrical steels for the electrical energy market.
The 1,300-acre site of the first plant is located between the Mississippi River and a BNSF Railway track. BNSF is one of four railroads that services the Port of Brownsville.
Aerial view of the BRS steel manufacturing plant in Osceola, Arkansas. Courtesy of BRS.
Constructed at a cost of $1.3 billion, the plant is comprised of four buildings that were designed to obtain the world’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for a steel mill. The construction phase provided 2,000 temporary jobs.
The U.S. Green Building Council, administrator of the LEED program, reported that a sustainable building consultant, Laura Steinbrink, helped convince Global Principal Partners LLC, backers of Big River Steel, to get the project team to seek LEED certification.
“They hadn’t been thinking about (LEED) before, but efficiencies were so ingrained in their whole business model and how they put their company together, in addition to their process and their facilities, that it was a no-brainer,” Steinbrink told USGBC.
The BRS Flex Mill in Osceola is an assembly of various types of steel-making equipment suited to produce niche steel products that use patented technology to streamline the manufacturing process while reducing energy consumption.
The other three buildings are for warehousing, employee services and administration. Energy efficient features include natural lighting, energy-efficient appliance, lights and water fixtures.
USGBC also reported that the project was completed with regionally sourced building materials, 82 percent of construction waste was diverted from landfills, and the campus was landscaped with native plants requiring no irrigation. Other amenities include bike racks and electric car charging stations.