BROWNSVILLE — Two and a half years after signing a lease option agreement with the Brownsville Navigation District board on 800 acres at the Port of Brownsville for a proposed steel mill, Big River Steel still hasn’t said whether it’s actually going to build a mill here.

The option agreement came roughly a year after BRS announced Brownsville was one of two finalists for the $1.6 billion plant, which would be modeled on the company’s original plant, located in Osceola, Ark. CEO David Stickler from time to time in interviews with metals industry publications has made comments that sound a lot like a steel mill is coming to the port, though no actual agreement has been signed.

In an October 2019 interview with energy and commodities analyst S&P Global Platts, he was quoted saying BRS was “just now aggressively ramping up efforts for a second flat-rolled mill in Brownsville” and that a company called Brownsville Investment Group LLC had been formed to take over development work “to get that project off the ground.”

In an interview with Fastmarkets AMM the same month, Stickler was quoted saying Brownsville was the “preferred site” for the mill but that BRS was also considering other sites and that “others have to do their part.”

Then, in an interview with Argus Media last August, in response to a question about whether BRS still had plans for a Brownsville mill, Stickler was quoted saying “we’re aggressively exploring building a mill down there” now that Brownsville has sufficient power infrastructure. He was quoted saying this is the third time he’s considered building a steel mill in Brownsville. The first time, the power infrastructure was inadequate and the second time — when the company was looking for a site for the mill it ultimately built in Arkansas — the infrastructure upgrade wasn’t finished yet, according to Argus.

“So what we told them is when you’re fully complete with the power infrastructure, come back and talk to us,” he was quoted as saying. “We think that’s a great site down there and we would consider yet a third time building a mill down there. … By the time we get our permits and everything else down in Texas, it will probably be 18-24 months before we put a shovel in the ground down there, then it’s about a 22-month construction period after that.”

BND Chairman John Reed said the port has had multiple high-level meetings with BRS but that the company hasn’t confirmed anything one way or another. Port Director and CEO Eduardo Campirano said the port is still in communications with BRS.

“All I can tell you at this point, we still have no commitment that they’re going to build in Brownsville,” he said. “There’s still a lot of things going on. We’ve always been very cautiously optimistic with any large project, but there’s still a lot to be done and we’re still working. … Obviously there are things I can’t talk about. It’s no secret we’ve been working with them for years now. We’ve got an option of land here. I don’t know what it’s going to take for them to commit, but we’re working as best we can with Big River. Project like this are not easy.”