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Construction benefits economy, but how much?

PORT MANSFIELD – The occupancy rate for rental houses and condominiums is higher this year in this secluded fishing village because wind farm and highway construction workers are staying here, residents say.

But opinions differ on how much benefit local businesses will get from visiting construction workers.

Port Mansfield Chamber of Commerce Director Christine Simmons said construction crews staying here have injected a lot of money into the local economy.

“The rentals (houses, condominiums) never used to do long-term rentals, long-term meaning a month or more,” Simmons said.

“Now they are because of the long-term contracts that we have with Blattner (Energy) and Duke (Energy), which is the (wind) turbine companies. They have brought people in here, they have brought new tourism in here.

“They are spending money in our stores, they’re spending money in our restaurants,” she said. “So I think that it’s a very good project for the port.”

One Port Mansfield real estate agent said she will not rent what she termed “high-end condos” that are worth $250,000 each or more to construction workers.

That real estate agent, Bonnie Long of Vic’s Rentals, said owners of properties she deals with cater to fishing parties and Winter Texans, many of whom are in fishing parities, which is the main business of Port Mansfield.

“We have chosen not to rent out to windmill people,” she said. “We take pride in the condition and cleanliness of our properties. We have higher-end condos.”

“Fishermen who come to Port Mansfield do have get-togethers,” she said. “But fishermen go to bed early because they come in off the water tired and they want to get up early and get back out on the water. Fishermen don’t throw wild parties. Port Mansfield is a fishing community.”

She doesn’t have anything against construction workers, Long said.

“The wind farms help the restaurants,” she said.

But the reason some property owners won’t rent to construction people isn’t so much problems with loud parties, it’s a matter of simple economics, Simmons said.

“Those condos, they will rent for $230 a night, two-night minimum,” she said. “So if you’re renting out monthly on a long-term (rate), you’ll lose all of your weekend revenue from the fishermen … making $500 in two nights.”

Betty Denton of Y Knot Rentals said her company has the most rental properties of any agency, about 90 in Port Mansfield.

Most are houses owned by individual retirees who come in the winter and Y Knot rents them out in the summer to fishing parties, she said.

“There might be a small shortage of rentals this year,” she said. But lots of fishing parties are still coming from Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and other states, Denton said.

Clifton Smith, who said he is a part-time fishing guide, said that although he has not personally had wind farm construction workers hire him for fishing parties, he knows other guides have.

“A lot of them are staying here; I see their trucks,” he said of companies such as Blattner Energy, which is building wind turbines for E.ON Climate & Renewables.

“They’re paying rents, eating at the restaurants; it’s definitely an asset,” he said of the construction worker business for Port Mansfield.

Jaime Cruz, a fishing guide from Raymondville, said he gets business from wind turbine workers who charter his boat.

“They bring in a lot of revenue,” he said. “It’s helped. I do get some.”

But longtime fishing guide Walt Kittelberger said he thinks the tourism benefit for Port Mansfield from wind farm workers is overrated.

Their benefit to local real estate is also overrated because long-term rental business by construction workers is minimal compared with the business from fishing parties, he said.

Also, the construction workers are bothersome to long-term rental customers who come to fish and enjoy Port Mansfield’s peace and tranquility, he said.

“They have a tendency to tear up the place,” he said of rental properties.

“The only people who really benefit are a few wealthy farmers. The overall economic impact of the wind farms being built in Willacy County will be to enrich a few wealthy farmers,” he said.

Farmers who have wind turbines on their land will make money, but the construction jobs provided by the projects will soon be over and the average Willacy County resident will get nothing, he said.

Besides wind turbine construction, crews are making improvements to U.S. Expressway 77 in Willacy County.