Thursday, August 7, 2008

UT Brownsville president envisions 'friendly' border fence on school's campus

Associated Press - Dallas Morning News
August 6 2008

McALLEN, Texas – A South Texas university has 10 days to design a border fence that is intimidating enough to turn back illegal immigrants but does not offend the aesthetics of an otherwise idyllic campus.

The University of Texas at Brownsville and the Department of Homeland Security have formalized an agreement presented to a federal judge last week that ends the government's attempt to condemn part of campus for the border fence.

The agreement, signed and filed with U.S. District Court in Brownsville Tuesday, ends the government's lawsuit, but also makes clear that the university's design ultimately must be approved by the Border Patrol.

When university president Juliet Garcia emerged from court where the compromise was first presented last Thursday, she said "it can be a very friendly fence." She envisioned it "with bougainvillea and vine growing all over it."

The fence described in the signed agreement will make meeting those expectations and the government's a challenge.

The fence must "incorporate anti-climb, anti-tunnel and anti-perching features, as well as convey an image of impenetrability," the agreement states.

Still, the compromise was a big win for the university and its sister two-year school Texas Southmost College, which will build a fence where one already stands without sacrificing any of their land and keeping the road to their golf course open.

The fence will be 10 feet tall rather than the 15 to 18 foot fences the government is building elsewhere. The anti-tunnel quality will be accomplished by a bar of concrete running directly below the fence that is 18 inches deep and eight inches wide.

The agreement does restrict materials used to "the same grade of material and equivalent mesh-style design" as is used at the Border Patrol station in Brownsville. Though the university, with government approval, will be able to add its own aesthetic touches.

Michael Putegnat, who oversaw the negotiations for the university, described it as chain link but with 1.5-inch squares.

"It will look pretty much like the fence you'd see at a baseball field backstop," Putegnat wrote in an e-mail.

The university also agreed to install electronic sensors in the fence that would be linked to Border Patrol monitors by fiber optics and place at least three cameras to relay activity along the fence line to the Border Patrol in real time.

The university is supposed to get Border Patrol approval for its design before putting out a request for bids Aug. 15. Construction must be completed by Dec. 31.

Together the university and local Border Patrol officials will study the effectiveness of various deterrents, including technological alternatives to fences with laboratory and field tests.

Homeland Security is racing to meet a congressional mandate that called for 670 miles of fencing to be in place along the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of the year.

The University of Texas System has agreed to pick up the tab for the campus' fence, which is so far estimated at less than $1 million.

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