Vela was in town to speak to community members at the Bee County Courthouse as he and other congressional members returned to their districts from Washington, D.C., for a summer recess.
The 34th District congressman had listened to Montez explain the need for his support from Washington concerning a proposed five-year pilot program that would involve testing unmanned aircraft systems for integration into the civilian aviation field.
Montez explained that 24 locations had applied for the selection of six sites nationwide that would participate in the pilot program.
The BDA director told Vela that Chase Field is blessed with “clear blue skies and open air space, along with large runways and hangars.”
Montez said if Chase Field is chosen for a drone pilot program it could provide some badly needed jobs for the area.
He told Vela that the main concern now is that primary issues could delay the implementation of the program by two years.
Montez said the BDA has promised Texas A&M University, which would staff the program, a half of one of its large hangars on the former naval air station.
Vela was assured that the drone program would be used to survey agriculture and conditions over the Gulf of Mexico and would not be used to watch humans.
Montez told the congressman that Chase Field was the largest airport in Texas to apply for participation in the nationwide program so far.
Vela reminded Montez that congressmen can often help obtain approval for local sites which desire to be involved in federal programs. But because of the separation of powers, the executive branch normally is responsible for selecting such sites.
Vela also heard requests for widening U.S. Highways 59 and 181 to four-lane divided thoroughfares.
“If it means spending money, the House isn’t going to do it,” Vela said. With the elimination of earmarks, individual congressmen no longer are able to designate spending on certain projects.
Vela also spoke with County Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez and others about veterans affairs.
He told Mayor David Carabajal that he might be able to assist the City of Beeville in obtaining Economic Development Administration funds for a badly needed water project.
Vela addressed border and immigration issues facing lawmakers in Washington. The Brownsville resident said border control methods in western states do not work well in Texas, where traffic between Mexico and the U.S. has traditionally been fluid.
As an example, Vela said his parents were born in Harlingen, but his mother attended a Catholic elementary school in Matamoros.
Vela said one of the main concerns in the Rio Grande Valley is Mexican drug cartel violence.
“Matamoros and Reynosa have gotten bad in the last two or three years,” Vela said.
The congressman said most Washington outsiders would be surprised to see how well Democrats and Republicans get along in Washington. The situation is not nearly as bad as some reports make it out to be.
“People say a lot of bad things about Congress,” Vela said. “I know we’ve got a 17 percent approval rating, and that’s pretty low.”
Vela is into the seventh month of his first two-year term in Congress. He said that even though he is a Democrat, he tends to vote with the conservatives on matters like energy issues.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.