Monday, September 8, 2008

Feds sue state to get parkland for fence

San Antonio Express-News
September 6, 2008

BROWNSVILLE — Weeks after the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department rejected the Department of Homeland Security's offer of $105,000 to buy land to mitigate effects of a fence cutting through a Rio Grande dove preserve, DHS has followed through with a lawsuit for the land.

The suit, filed in federal court in Brownsville, is accompanied by a declaration of taking for the 3.2 acres of land necessary for the fence and its right-of-way through the Anacua segment of the Las Palomas preserve.

Federal attorneys say in the declaration the fence will not cut off access to the parkland between the fence and the Rio Grande.

TPW officials say the proposed “border barrier gate” will undo decades of habitat restoration.
TPW Executive Director Carter Smith had hoped the long history of game wardens working with Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies would give their agency the type of “unique status” that brought a court compromise for the University of Texas-Brownsville segment of the fence.

But he said Friday the agency is resigned there will be a fence as planned. He said his priority was making sure there's no construction activity during white wing dove season, which is this weekend and next.

Smith said he hoped an agreement could be reached guaranteeing TPW is present during all phases of construction to help minimize environmental damage.

“DHS has shown no sign of being willing to compromise on the design or location of the fence itself, but there are a host of other considerations that we are interested in,” he said.
He called current plans for the 30- to 50-foot-wide barrier gate “perplexing.”

“Right now we have been told they are going to build a fence and then leave an opening for a gate that at some point in the distant future they will complete,” he said.

DHS remains committed to completing 370 miles of barrier by the end of 2008. As of Aug. 13, the agency had completed 184 miles of pedestrian fencing, much of it in the other Southwest border states.

Attempts by environmental and other groups to contest the constitutionality of Homeland Security's waiver of environmental laws have so far failed.

Last Friday, a federal judge in El Paso denied a request for an injunction against fence construction by plaintiffs, including the city and county of El Paso, Frontera Audubon Society, and Friends of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

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