The U.S. Army Reserve solicited bids last week for a controlled-humidity storage facility in Robstown, nudging the $50- to $60 million project a step closer to its projected completion date in early 2009.

U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, Corpus Christi, who has been working on the project with military officials for years, said the Oct. 16 solicitation by the Army Reserve was an important step in the process.

Robstown beat out four other sites that were considered and Ortiz has said the storage facility would be an enormous addition to the area that would bring jobs and prestige to Robstown.

"This was an important moment to finalizing the choice of Robstown as the site for this warehouse," Ortiz said. "Additionally, I have talked to several people involved in the process and each one has assured me that Robstown is the superior site for the facility."

Danny East, a retired colonel and a logistics management specialist for the U.S. Army Reserve, said Robstown is an ideal, strategic location because nearby Corpus Christi is a strategic seaport. He said Robstown's climate-controlled warehouse would be one of the biggest storage facilities for the Army Reserve that's close to a seaport.

However, there are other steps that must be completed before construction can begin. For example, the Army Reserve must issue findings of "no practical alternative" and "no significant impact" since the site near Highway 77 and the Richard M. Borchard Regional Fairgrounds is on a floodplain.

The Army Reserve must also select a builder and award a contract, which is a process that officially began with the solicitation Oct. 16. The projected bid award date is Jan. 15, 2008. The entire design and construction schedule is 360 days.

East said a groundbreaking would take place in January or February, about 30 days after a bid has been awarded.

"I am anxiously following and monitoring each step of this process, and will be very happy when we gather to break ground on this important facility in Robstown," said Ortiz, who worked to authorize and appropriate the funding for the facility in the last Congress. "Once these paperwork steps are finished, we'll be looking at dates to break ground for this new infrastructure."

A pre-proposal conference was scheduled Oct. 25 at Robstown's City Hall, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other officials expected.

"Everything is moving forward," said Robstown Mayor Rodrigo Ramon Jr. "Basically what's happening is all the clearances are moving forward. After all the clearances and all the environmental and all the criteria that's required, they plan to possibly award a bid by December or January with construction soon to follow. "

The Army Reserve Controlled Humidity Storage Facility will be a state-of-the-art storage and training facility, East said.

Eight phases of construction, totaling 960,000 square feet, are planned.

The Army Reserve has budgeted $9.8 million for the initial phase, which will consist of a 120,000-square-foot hurricane-proof facility between Highway 77 and the Union Pacific Railroad.

The Army Reserve ultimately plans to construct 960,000 square feet of storage facilities at the site near the fairgrounds, including a small maintenance facility. The development is projected to cost between $50 million and $60 million in total.

"That's something that we'll be working with Washington on, when the other phases will come in," Ramon said. "We will be seeking additional funding for the project. We'll be working with the congressman's office to try and bring this to full development.

"I think it will benefit the whole region when it's from completely built."

The project will provide controlled-humidity facilities for Army Reserve equipment supporting mobilization and demobilization activities, East said. The need for controlled-humidity for military equipment is to prevent rusting or other degradation that accompanies humidity in the air.

The facility would store equipment for four or five years, keeping it ready to be sent to a port for deployment, if need be. The storage site would create 15 to 50 permanent civilian jobs to warehouse, store, and maintain the equipment, East said.

The Army Reserve's heavy equipment will be stored in Robstown, East said. The heavy equipment would consist of trucks, semi-trailers, road graders, fuel bladders, pipelines, bulldozers and other heavy equipment, but no live ammunition or petroleum.

East said the vast majority of the Army Reserve's heavy equipment is presently stored outdoors in Alaska, Europe, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, American Samoa and elsewhere around the globe. He said the problem is the equipment deteriorates outdoors.

East said the Army Reserve's goal is to place 38 percent of its equipment in controlled-humidity facilities at strategic sites by 2015.

He said the goal is more difficult to reach with the war in Iraq and its demand for heavy equipment in Persian Gulf area.

"We've left a lot of equipment in Iraq so that it can be used by following rotations of units," East said.