Sunland Park’s efforts to develop an international crossing on its southern boundary with Mexico dates back to 2006 at least, and the leaders of the city’s 14,000 residents are still at it.
Only now, they’re expecting to submit an application for a presidential permit around the first of the year with the help of the city’s latest consultant, S&B Infrastructure of Houston.
“We’re looking, hopefully, to submit the presidential permit application by the end of the year – if not, a little bit sooner,” Mayor Javier Perea told El Paso Inc. before the city conducted a remote public hearing on the project Thursday afternoon.
Sunland Park starts roughly where El Paso stops on the Westside – at the New Mexico state line. Perea has been in office for almost eight years and his term expires in December 2023.
In 2006, Stan Fulton, the late owner of Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino, established a $12 million fund to help the city develop a border crossing.
Contrary to rumors, Perea said, that fund is not depleted.
“We should still have $2 million of those monies available to now continue on with this project,” he said.
S&B has a $4 million contract with the city for its services.
Over the years, the city’s port-of-entry attempts have gone through a lot of starts, stops and consultants, but Sunland Park has never gotten close to submitting a presidential permit application.
It would go to the U.S. Department of State, which then recommends approval or denial to the president, who holds the exclusive power to issue, deny or alter a port of entry application.
Sunland Park also has a colorful past, tainted by scandals and financial problems that have always made business leaders and elected officials in Southern New Mexico and Santa Fe skeptical of the city’s port-of-entry efforts – and worthiness.
“I think what has helped our particular situation is that we’re actually doing the studies how they’re supposed to be done, and we’re clarifying what the project is,” Perea said, adding that the city’s finances are strong and in good standing with the state’s Department of Finance.
The city will seek approval for a crossing for pedestrians and private vehicles, not the commercial vehicles that now use the Santa Teresa port of entry.
“It just doesn’t warrant the amount of investment that would be required to do commercial transactions at this port of entry,” he said.
Another hurdle was former New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican whose administration flatly opposed the idea of a Sunland Park port of entry and who left office in January 2019.
Perea said the new administration of Democratic Michelle Lujan Grisham is, well, new.
“This administration seems to be a little bit more open-minded about this project, and we have had meetings with several agencies in Santa Fe,” he said. “But right now the biggest invitation we’ve had is to maintain communication with the New Mexico Department of Transportation.
“I believe that’s where the recommendation to the governor’s office will come from.”
But Jerry Pacheco, who heads the Border Industrial Association and recruits and serves companies in four industrial parks close to the Santa Teresa port of entry, doesn’t think Sunland Park’s proposal is any more viable today than it was years ago.
“The state’s not going to put up the money, and the GSA of the federal government is certainly not going to put up the money,” Pacheco said. “The whole project’s been relegated to back-burner status.”
Perea said the city is looking at $40 million to build a noncommercial port of entry.
“What we’re looking at is the city has never issued bonds as far as we know,” he said, adding that debt could be repaid over time with gross receipts revenue, also known as sales taxes. “We’re looking at that option for bonds.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 630-6622.