NOGALES, Ariz. — Although contractors aren’t quite finished with the expansion project at the Mariposa Port of Entry, Nogales, Ariz., the facility drew rave reviews from produce industry representatives.
“Phenomenal,” said Scott Fletcher, manager of Allen Lund Co.’s Dallas Metroplex office in Grapevine. “Last time I was here about two years ago, everything was under construction. Everything was pretty bunched up and we stayed on the bus.”
John Pandol, special projects director for Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros. Inc., was equally impressed.
“I think it’s the right tool for the right job,” he said.
Fletcher and Pandol were among about two dozen attendees of the Americas Trade Produce conference who toured the port, March 12.
The construction project, three years in the works, is expected to be completed in August when cold storage facilities adjacent to truck docks are finished, said Joe Agostini, assistant port director with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
It was built in phases to avoid disruption, with most of the other work already completed and operational, he said.
During the winter, up to three-fourths of all Mexican produce enters the U.S. at the Mariposa crossing, Agostini said. That amounts to about 1,400 trucks per day.
Produce ranks third in value of products crossing at Mariposa, with about $2.6 billion in fiscal year 2013, Agostini said. Only vehicle/vehicle parts and electronics/machinery are more valuable.
With the expansion, the port’s footprint has grown to 57 acres from the previous 43 acres.
It now has eight lanes for inbound commercial truck traffic from Mexico, up from the previous four lanes. The port also has five exit lanes for northbound trucks, compared to the previous two.
The improvements are designed to decrease wait times at the border and speed produce deliveries, Agostini said.
“Because trade is very important, we wanted to make sure perishables get to the point of distribution quickly and without much delay,” he said.
After trucks clear customs inspection, 2% are randomly selected for agricultural inspection.
Among the quarantine pests inspectors check for are Asian citrus psyllid; ragonot, a cob-borer of corn; and wood-burrowing pests.
Should they find a pest not on the quarantine list, they’ll note it but release the shipment.
Dock facilities, where trucks can offload products for just such inspections, have been expanded, Agostini said. A cold room adjacent to the docks is under construction and will help maintain the cold chain, should a hold be put on a produce item.
The commercial truck side of the port operates from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays and from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays. During the peak winter vegetable months — January-March — the port also has limited Sunday hours, depending on need.
Lane openings are adjusted ahead of anticipated traffic patterns to reduce delays and back-ups, he said.
“We have enough officers to match the number of lanes,” he said. “As the volume of trucks increases and the volume of work increases, the staffing increases.”
In addition, the expansion project included increasing private vehicle lanes to 12 from the previous four, adding a dedicated bus inspection lane and installing computerized kiosks to speed pedestrian entry, Agostini said.
Customs and Border Patrol officers also check trucks southbound into Mexico, but he said they don’t have a permanent facility for that duty. Instead, they use mobile equipment and alternate locations based on intelligence reports from internal sources as well as from other agencies, Agostini said.
“We do that randomly because once they know you’re there, you’re not going to catch anything,” he said.