Border Cities Focus on Economic Growth, Infrastructure Despite the Drug War

by Published on
Photo courtesy of the North American Development Bank
Sunpeak Solar Park in Niland, California.

Despite the violence plaguing parts of the border, cities are still investing in roads and waste water systems, and now even in solar projects and renewable energy.

Last year the Border Environment Cooperation Commission and the North American Development Bank, sister organizations created under NAFTA nearly 20 years ago, approved a 20-megawatt solar energy park in Picture Rocks, Arizona, which is expected to generate electricity for about 3,500 homes in Tuscon.

On Tuesday, the two agencies announced another round of spending with the approval of six more projects for a total of $180 million in loans and grants.

The projects include the construction or rehabilitation of 15 roadways and six overpasses in Juarez, one of many border towns with limited paved roads. The decision also allows for the financing of two water, wastewater and paving infrastructure projects in Nuevo Laredo that will help reduce pollution and provide more than 1,000 households with access to water and about 5,000 households with access to wastewater for the first time.

Another project was approved for Miguel Aleman, Tamaulipas, and another in Matamoros. The final project the board approved Tuesday is in Starr County, Texas where a $450,000 grant was given to finance a solid waste transfer station. Before Starr County, the bank funded 45 projects in Texas, making it the state with the highest number of infrastructure projects in either country.

The transfer station marks the 200th project certified by the Border Environment Cooperation Commission, most of which have been financed by the North American Development Bank for a total of $3.5 billion. The bank receives equal funding from the U.S. and Mexican governments, but has also received millions from the EPA over the years.

Projects are partially funded by the bank, with local, state and federal governments making up most of the remainder of expenses.

“The bank serves as a catalyst to bring that other investment to the table; we don’t seek to be the sole financier of any infrastructure project,” spokesperson Juan Antonio Flores says. “The local community needs to be invested in it.”

The core mission of the bank, he says, is to provide environmental infrastructure that will improve communities’ quality of life as well as promote economic growth.

“When you have a cleaner environment, conditions all around improve for a community in terms of the quality of life,” he says. “A clean environment makes a community a desirable place to live, so if companies want to relocate and grow in an area you want that to be a place with a clean environment; access to a sustainable potable water source is key for economic development.”

The commission is headquartered in Juarez and the bank in San Antonio. Eligible projects in the United States are limited to approximately 60 miles distance from the border. In Mexico, the limit extends to roughly 186 miles from the border due to the greater difficulty of securing financing in those smaller towns.

“The whole idea behind the bank is you can’t have increased trade and commerce between two countries without having some mechanism in response to deal with what was for a long time a neglected environmental challenge along the border,” Flores says.

Though drug violence has inhibited progress in many sectors of the Mexican economy, Flores believes the attention the violence has gotten in the media has partly overshadowed what the sister organizations are doing and the economic progress that is still taking place in parts of Mexico.

“Infrastructure is not as sexy I guess, but there’s something very important happening that does go unnoticed: through all the trouble that there’s been in Nuevo Laredo and Ciudad Juarez, those communities, along with their state and federal governments, haven’t stopped looking to invest in infrastructure and economic growth,” Flores says. “There’s kind of the tale of two Mexicos – the one that is mired by the problems that are reported in the media every day; and then there’s the other Mexico that’s seeing manufacturing return to the maquiladora industry from China and places like Ciudad Juarez where the maquiladora continues to grow and play a very important role in the economy there.

“Governments have had the political will to take on debt to invest in things like roads and ports of entry, water and wastewater. There’s a long way to go but there’s also really important stuff happening in cities like Nuevo Laredo and Juarez.”

Priscila Mosqueda is a frequent contributor to the Observer, where she previously interned for what everyone agreed was far too long. She grew up in San Antonio and graduated with a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin in 2012. Her work has been published in the San Antonio Express-News, The Austin Chronicle, San Antonio Magazine and "Forty Acres of Fun," a book about the unique culture and traditions of the University of Texas.