Continuing a years-long campaign to have the federal government renovate the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors this week renewed its advocacy efforts to get the first part of the plan done.
In a letter to Guadalupe Ramirez, director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Tucson Field Office, the supervisors urged CBP and the General Services Administration to initiate a study that would determine a design and cost for renovating the downtown port.
“It is impossible to advance the modernization of the DeConcini port of entry without a feasibility study,” the supervisors wrote in the letter. “We have been requesting this for years and the situation simply grows worse by day.”
Ramirez should be acutely aware of the situation at the port, having served as CBP’s director of port operations in Nogales from 2009 to 2017.
County Supervisor Bruce Bracker, who requested the agenda item for Tuesday’s meeting, told the NI that the community has been advocating for the renovation for more than 10 years. This week’s letter was simply a continuation of that effort.
The letter noted that pedestrian crossing statistics at the DeConcini and Morley Avenue ports have declined over the years, which has had a negative impact on local businesses, as well as sales and property tax revenue.
The downtown border-crossing has been a key transit point since the earliest days of Ambos Nogales. The current port facility was built in 1966 and serves cross-border pedestrian, passenger vehicle and train traffic. It’s also the only local port of entry that’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
However, its limited footprint has created increasingly cramped quarters and contributed to long wait times as the amount of traffic and new equipment has increased during the past 55 years.
While many resources have been invested in infrastructure between the ports, the supervisors continued, the ports of entry have received minimal funding.
The Mariposa Port of Entry received a $200 million-plus renovation during a nearly five-year overhaul that was completed in 2014. But that price tag was dwarfed by the $1.3-billion contract the Trump administration awarded last year to construct approximately 43 miles of border wall in Pima and Santa Cruz County.
In May 2019, Virginia Staab, then the U.S. consul in Nogales, Sonora, told the Rio Rico Rotary Club that the federal government was doing a feasibility study for improving the DeConcini port, saying it “needs a complete overhaul.” Asked about the timeline for improvements at DeConcini, Staab said, “that’s probably a five-year plan.”
On Thursday, Bracker told the NI that work on the DeConcini port of entry has been pushed back as CBP officials focused their attention of other Arizona ports of entry.
“First, they told us that we weren’t next in line because we had just gotten Mariposa, and they needed to do some work in San Luis or needed to do some work in Douglas,” he said.
Bracker noted that the San Luis and Douglas ports of entry are already in the process of securing funding for their respective projects, and insisted that Nogales was next in line for a feasibility study.
“My hope is that part of rebuilding an economy is building infrastructure, and I can’t think of a piece of infrastructure that impacts local and state economies like a port of entry,” Bracker said. “It has a huge positive impact on economic movement, for building the economy, building businesses and creating jobs.”