City and county officials cut funding for Presidio port authority, citing concerns about transparency and need
The Presidio International Port Authority was created to facilitate construction of the international bridge to Ojinaga. The group has received tens of thousands of dollars from the city and county each year since 2016. Now, officials are divided on what that money has accomplished.
By Annie Rosenthal
City and county officials in Presidio recently moved to cut funding for the Presidio International Port Authority — an entity that was originally created to coordinate work on the international bridge to Ojinaga.
Officials say the move was prompted by concerns about transparency in the port authority’s work — along with questions about its legal status and whether there’s still a need for the organization.
The port authority was once seen as ushering in Presidio’s future as a trade hub. Now, it’s unclear how local officials will carry on that effort.
Marfa Public Radio’s Annie Rosenthal has been following the story, and recently joined All Things Considered host Travis Bubenik to talk about it.
On PIPA’s history and purpose
The Presidio International Port Authority, or PIPA, was originally created through an agreement between the city and the county to facilitate the expansion of the international bridge between Presidio and Ojinaga. Its initial goal was to create a toll bridge that would bring in revenue for the county. But when that turned out not to be feasible, PIPA reoriented its work towards simply seeing the construction through. That’s taking much longer than expected, largely due to delays higher up the food chain.
PIPA has received tens of thousands of dollars from both the city and the county each year since 2016, as well as from the Presidio Municipal Development District, the organization in charge of economic development for the city.
Most of that funding goes toward the salary for PIPA’s executive director, Jake Giesbrecht, the only paid member of the organization. Alongside coordinating between agencies involved with port development, Giesbrecht says he’s advocated for Presidio as a member of state economic development boards in Texas and Chihuahua. His efforts have been overseen by a board of directors that includes the Presidio County judge and mayor of the city of Presidio.
On why officials decided to stop funding PIPA
County Judge Cinderela Guevara told county commissioners recently that she believes PIPA has already accomplished what it set out to do. But in the city of Presidio, the decision to pull funding came down to questions around transparency in what the organization was using taxpayer money to accomplish. City council members criticized what they see as a lack of communication and documentation of PIPA’s work, saying they’re concerned about the return on their investment.
Concerns in Presidio also centered on PIPA’s legal status. State records indicate that the organization was officially dissolved in 2018 because it had failed to file the required reports and tax returns.
PIPA’s top officials say they were unaware that the organization had lost its legal status. County attorney Rod Ponton was less surprised — and he said concern around the issue was misguided. He told Marfa Public Radio that PIPA had allowed its nonprofit status to be revoked because it was no longer necessary when the toll bridge project fell through.
Experts in Texas nonprofit law, meanwhile, said it’s not standard for an organization to be dissolved by the state and continue operating without any formal restructuring or acknowledgement of that transition.
On how the board has responded
Giesbrecht, PIPA’s executive director, said he agreed that the organization might have run its course. But he took issue with the idea that it hadn’t returned on its investment, saying that PIPA had played an important role in getting the bridge project to where it is now. He said the real fruits of that labor will become clear when the bridge is completed and trade opportunities actually open up.
“We've got this economical engine built halfway, or more than half,” he said. “We have to finish it for it to create money for us. To create an economy for the city, for this community, which we so desperately need.”
Judge Guevara told Marfa Public Radio she plans to call a meeting of PIPA’s board to discuss the future of the organization, and to look further into its legal status.