Wednesday, August 20, 2008

DHS says 'no' to Cameron County's levee-wall alternative

Rio Grande Guardian
August 19, 2008

BROWNSVILLE, August 19 - The Department of Homeland Security has rejected Cameron County’s proposed levee-wall project as an alternative to a border fence.

Confirmation of the decision was relayed to Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos in a letter sent by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham.

“After many meetings and discussions with the CBP Secure Border Initiative program office as well as a thorough evaluation of our proposal they concluded that the project was not feasible,” Cascos said.

“Costs for a project of this magnitude and their current experience in Hidalgo County played a major role in their decision. In addition the coordination with the International Boundary and Water Commission was also a factor.”

The IBWC is currently working to complete flood protection improvements in Cameron County. “There was an unwillingness to collaborate on a joint levee-barrier project at this time,” Cascos said, referring to the IBWC.

Cascos said DHS plans to proceed with the planned installation of a border fence in Cameron County.

“As has been stated many times before, the Cameron County Commissioner’s Court has taken an official position opposing the border fence and will continue to work towards aiming to make sure that the concerns of those most affected by this initiative are addressed in a proper manner,” Cascos added.

In Hidalgo County, CBP is working with county officials and IBWC to build 22 miles of levee concrete walls instead of a border fence. The project was made financially viable when county commissioners agreed to use $40 million from a county bond issue to help pay for the work. The county hopes the federal government will pay the money back in the not too distant future.

In his letter to Cascos, Basham said CBP’s Secure Border Initiative program office has evaluated the “complex operational, financial, environmental, and construction timeline requirements” associated with Cameron County’s proposed levee-wall project.

“We have determined that the project is not feasible,” Basham wrote. “The key factors in reaching this conclusion were concerns related to the cost and coordination with the International Boundary and Water Commission, the federal entity with responsibility for the levees.”

Basham said that based on his agency’s recent experience in Hidalgo County, CBP estimates that the cost of a similar project in Cameron County would “exceed the cost” of CBP’s standard fence design.

“Additionally, because the IBWC is already working to complete flood protection improvements in Cameron County, we do not believe it will be feasible to collaborate with them on a joint levee-barrier project,” Basham said.

Basham said that as CBP proceeds with its installation of border security in Cameron County it will maintain “open dialogue” with the local community and affected landowners.

No comments: