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Border wall gates construction in Cameron County begins today

December 1, 2018

Contractors will begin building seven border wall gates today in Cameron County.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection waited until Thursday afternoon to announce that it awarded a contract for construction of the gates to Gideon Contracting, a San Antonio firm, on Oct. 3 – a week before the Department of Homeland Security waived more than two dozen laws to allow for further border wall construction in Texas’ southernmost county.

In a press release, CBP said the contract awarded is in the amount of $3,731,380 for seven gates with an additional option for four gates valued at $1,985,525 – or $519,719 per gate for 11 gates.

On Oct. 10, DHS announced it was waiving laws to fill in 11 gaps in the existing wall built in Cameron County more than a decade ago.

“ The gates will be located off the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) levee at the end of or along existing levee ramps,” CBP said in a press release. “Once installed, the gates will serve as a persistent impediment to smuggling organizations while still allowing river access for property owners, USBP, other local/state/federal officials, and local emergency responders.”

Scott Nicol, co-char of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Campaign, said the gates will cut the public off from the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the Rio Grande.

“ When a gate was installed in Hidalgo County the public was cut off from a section of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge that had drawn birders from all over the country. Gates in Cameron will also cut us off from refuges and the river,” Nicol said. “These gates cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each. The RGV has real needs, like education and health care, that that money could be used to address. It should not be wasted on border walls.”

In addition to the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the Nature Conservancy’s Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve – a 1,014-acr preserve complete with active restoration work, research, farm operations and a native plant nursery – will be impacted by the gates.

When the federal government condemned a portion of the preserve in 2009 and built the border fence, 85 percent of its wetlands, grasslands and forests were left behind the wall.

After DHS waived laws that include the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Wildlife Refuge Act, Vanessa Martin, interim director of marketing and communications for the Nature Conservancy, said filling in those gaps will further strain an already sensitive environment and key wildlife corridor.

However, DHS Secretary Kristjen Nielsen said in the waiver of two dozen laws that more gates and roads in Cameron County are necessary.

“ The United States Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector is an area of high illegal entry. For the last several years, the Rio Grande Valley Sector has seen more apprehensions of illegal aliens than any other sector of the United States Border Patrol (“Border Patrol”),” the waiver states. “For example, in fiscal year 2017 alone, Border Patrol apprehended over 137,000 illegal aliens. In that same year Border Patrol seized approximately 260,000 pounds of marijuana and approximately 1,200 pounds of cocaine.”

Those stats are repeated in CBP’s press release announcing the construction of gates.

While cocaine is typically smuggled through ports of entry, a fact known to the Drug Enforcement Administration and other law enforcement agencies, federal criminal complaints show that areas - where border fencing has stood for a decade - where gates will be built include incidents where authorities arrest undocumented immigrants and make hundred-plus pound marijuana seizures.

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com

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