Saturday, July 1, 2017


By Richard Webner
SA Express-News
Bitter feelings still linger in Brownsville more than a decade after the city’s port paid millions of dollars for a bridge that was never built to Dannenbaum Engineering, the statewide engineering company whose offices the FBI raided in April.

The Port of Brownsville paid Dannenbaum roughly $10 million between 1997 and 2004 to get permission from the Mexican government to build a rail bridge over the Rio Grande. The project was expected to bring a much-needed economic boost to Brownsville, one of the poorest cities in the United States.

But the money seemed to disappear, according to public records and interviews with officials from the area. An investigation commissioned by the port determined that much of it was paid to Mexican companies connected to Louis Jones, a prolific political donor and director of Dannenbaum’s operations in South Texas –  an assertion that the company denies.

After Dannenbaum sued the port and the port countersued, the litigation was settled and the bridge was never built.

“It was a real black eye for the community, and I think it caused a lot of distrust for voters for many years,” said David Oliveira, a former attorney for the port. The project’s failure was “very sad for a community that desperately needs infrastructure and other things to create jobs.”

Dannenbaum Engineering has stirred a lot of controversy as it has grown into one of the dominant engineering companies in South Texas over the past 30 years. On April 26, the FBI executed a broad raid of its offices across the state, including in San Antonio, to gather records related to the company’s pursuit of infrastructure projects in the Laredo area. 

A decade ago, reports from the El Paso Times and other media outlets linked the company to another FBI corruption probe in El Paso County.

The company does work all over the state: Its portfolio includes master-planned communities around Austin, storm protection work in Galveston and a multibillion-dollar highway project near its headquarters in Houston. It has been operating around the Alamo City since the 1980s, and Bexar County has paid the company $2.9 million for work on road improvements and flood control in recent years.

But Dannenbaum’s influence seems to be greatest near the border, especially in Webb County and McAllen’s Hidalgo County, where it is known for consistently winning the most lucrative engineering contracts, officials and engineers say. In Laredo, it’s been working on a $534 million project to build a six-lane freeway. In Hidalgo County, the company is managing the construction of highway projects with a total price tag of $500 million.

The company led the construction of a 20-mile, $217 million levee wall on the border in Hidalgo County in 2009, and it recently drew up plans to extend it another 30 miles at a cost of $379 million, as part of President Donald Trump’s push for more border protection. Local environmental and advocacy groups have come out in opposition.

Dannenbaum lobbies aggressively for high-dollar engineering contracts, according to court filings, government reports and interviews with engineers and public officials. Jones and the company’s other executives are often among the biggest donors to city and county officials in Hidalgo and Webb counties, and elsewhere in the state, campaign filings show.

‘Unfair and possibly illegal’

A few years back, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz vetoed a $1 million no-bid contract with Dannenbaum that was “unfair and possibly illegal,” only to be overruled by City Council members, he said in an interview.

“We bid it out, and it seems like they always come out on top for whatever reason,” Webb County Judge Tano Tijerina said. The company has a reputation for doing good work, he said. “Every job they’ve done, they’ve done a good job.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

pura lana ese danneboom, and no results. yea just like bisd, the city el bedc, just throwing money away.