White House Seeks to Condemn South Texas Land, Including Nature Preserve, for “Border Infrastructure Project”

LA FERIA, Texas (Border Report) – The Biden administration has sued in federal court to condemn several plots of farmland in Cameron County, where it plans to build and install a set of border infrastructure on along the banks of the Rio Grande. But environmentalists tell Border Report the area also includes a section of a federal wildlife sanctuary that is home to endangered species.

Documents filed in federal court in Brownsville last month show the federal government taking several fields of farmland near the Rio Grande south of the town of La Feria, Texas. And an included map indicates that the border infrastructure project would directly cross the area of ​​La Gloria Wildlife Refuge, which is part of the Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

The Trump-era border wall built south of La Feria, Texas has several gaps that currently allow wildlife to pass. (Sandra Sanchez / Border Report)

On Tuesday, environmentalists Scott Nicol and Jim Chapman took Border Report on a tour of the wildlife sanctuary. They say the refuge is part of a decades-old corridor that was established to provide a safe place for wildlife. And they’re worried animals won’t be able to get to and from the Rio Grande if the wildlife refuge is cut off by new border barriers.

“If they followed the line of condemnation, it would cause that stretch of border wall behind us to pass through another part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge,” Nicol said Tuesday as he walked along. of the dusty border dike.

Environmentalists Scott Nicol, left, and Jim Chapman, president of the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, walk through the brush at La Gloria National Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday, December 14, 2021, south of La Feria, TX. The Department of Homeland Security has filed court documents to condemn the area’s farmland and a map shows that a border fence will be built across the refuge. (Sandra Sanchez / Border Report)

Beneath the raised earth dike are towering cedars, swampy wetlands, and dense brush, home to raccoons, turtles, and rare birds.

According to court documents filed with the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas at Brownsville, this is land that the federal government says is taken “for the construction, installation, operation and maintenance of land. roads, fences, vehicle barriers, security lighting, cameras, sensors and related structures designed to help secure the United States / Mexico border within the State of Texas. “

The blue line indicates planned “border infrastructure” in Cameron County, which includes the cutting of a Federal Wildlife Preserve area south of the town of La Feria, Texas, according to court documents filed by DHS in Brownsville . (DHS card)

A 30-foot-high black metal bollard wall has already been built on either side of the 269-acre wildlife sanctuary, and part of the wall has already been built inside the refuge, Chapman said.

Now, Chapman and Nicol are concerned that the Biden administration will complete the missing segment – which is barely a mile long – and connect the border wall. This would cut off the refuge from the river and dissect this expanse of land that was set aside in the 1970s to protect wildlife.

A 30-foot metal border wall dissects farmland south of La Feria, Texas, as seen on December 14, 2021 (Sandra Sanchez / Border Report)

“Part of this region is made up of forests. Part of it is wetlands, ”Chapman said. “And the sea wall is where they want to place the border wall and that would essentially cut the refuge in half and create a mostly impassable barrier for wildlife trying to get to the river or trying to get away from the river. . “

He’s also worried that bright lights and cameras could affect some habitats as well, and that the 150-foot application area that is carved around the border fence will destroy sensitive vegetation in that recharge area.

Nicol said he was disheartened because when President Joe Biden took office he promised to stop any further construction of border walls. But DHS hired contractors to build what they called border “guardrails” and to consolidate sections of the border wall and sea wall that were damaged during the initial construction of the border wall.

But Chapman says that part of the dike currently has no border fence, and if they install one, he says it would be “a new border wall.”

“They are basically saying that we are not building a new border wall, they are saying that we are just doing remediation and repair work, but it would be a new border wall because there has been no construction here for over a decade. ‘a year,’ Chapman said. .

The current border posts installed to the east of the refuge have a handwritten date of December 2020. And they were one of the last sections of border wall built before Donald Trump left.

A border wall could be maintained to cross the La Gloria Wildlife Refuge, which is part of the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Lower Rio Grande Valley Refuge south of La Feria, Texas, as seen on December 14, 2021. (Sandra Sanchez / Photos from the border report)

DHS has returned several land tracks that were condemned under the Trump administration, including high-profile riverside land in Hidalgo County owned by the Cavazos family that was returned last week.

And that’s what makes it so hard for Nicol to understand, he says.

“It didn’t really grab the attention. That should and maybe help the Biden administration have a more coherent policy and when they say ‘no one more foot’ they actually stop doing things that would help build another foot of a border wall, ”said Nicol.

Border Report has contacted the Department of Homeland Security and asked if the border infrastructure project includes building a border wall through the refuge and when construction will begin.

In October, DHS announced it would end all border wall contracts in the Laredo and Rio Grande Valley areas of the Border Patrol. In addition, DHS said, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will continue to investigate biological, cultural, and natural resources in areas where barrier plans exist. These areas are also found in the Laredo and Rio Grande Valley areas and in the El Centro area (California).

DHS said none of the environmental activities involved building border barriers or acquiring permanent land, and all actions were in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

Sandra Sanchez can be contacted at [email protected]

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