San Diego Union-Tribune
August 16, 2008
SOUTH COUNTY: After several delays, earth-moving equipment has begun scraping soil from a hillside next to Smuggler's Gulch, the canyon at the center of a controversial border fence-building operation that has pitted local environmentalists against the federal government for years.
Border Patrol Agent Jason Rodgers confirmed yesterday that contractors have been using heavy equipment this week to excavate soil from the west side of the canyon, which lies west of the San Ysidro port of entry. The federal government's plan is to build an earthen berm stretching across the canyon to support new steel mesh fencing and roads.
Kiewit Corp., based in Omaha, Neb., was awarded a $48.6 million contract for the work.
The operation, which will require filling in the canyon with more than two million cubic yards of dirt, has been criticized by environmentalists for the silt-related damage it could do to the Tijuana River estuary. In 2004, the California Coastal Commission stalled construction after ruling that the project would cause environmental damage.
A lawsuit filed by several environmental groups that same year to stop the project was thrown out of court in December 2005, after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff used the authority granted to him by legislation that year to waive all laws impeding fence construction.