Friday, October 31, 2008

Border fence threatens supporter's S. Texas home

Associated Press / Houston Chronicle
October 31, 2008
by Christopher Sherman

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Dorothy Irwin is one of the Border Patrol's staunchest local supporters and was a fan of the proposed border fence — until she found out it would run right through her house.

It has been an awkward situation for Irwin as she tries simultaneously to protect the 19th-century plantation that her grandparents moved into in 1924.

The case of the Old Nye Plantation has been discussed at levels as high as Washignton, D.C., among U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, but is now back in the hands of U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville.

Two weeks ago, Hanen gave the government and Irwin more time to negotiate an agreement. They are scheduled to be back in court Friday.

"This is the first situation we've had where someone said, 'Hey, this fence is coming through my house,'" Hanen said.

In the past two weeks, an assistant U.S. attorney toured the 600-acre farm with officials from Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers and discussed the case in Irwin's home. Two days ago there was still no deal.

Irwin's simple question: "Why is this being done the way it's being done?"

The fenceline would run just behind Irwin's red brick, two-story house. But the Border Patrol also plans to build rights-of-way for their patrol vehicles, which would go right where her house stands now.

The plantation's main buildings sit at the foot of the levee on the north side of the Rio Grande. The plantation, approached along a long palm-lined drive, sits squarely between properties owned by The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society.

The government's plan to build the border fence along the north edge of the levee would leave more than 400 acres of the plantation behind the fence.

That is what really gets Irwin. As much as she supports the idea of securing the border, she said the U.S. landowners are the ones being punished by building the fence as much as two miles from the winding Rio Grande in some places.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is overseeing the project, said it has to be built on the north side of the levee to avoid diverting the flow of floodwaters and running afoul of international treaties with Mexico. It is a reason the agency has stuck to in many of the contested land cases, but has worked out other arrangements in places such as Los Ebanos, where the lack of a levee forced the government to propose a removable fence to be placed in the floodplain.

To Irwin, who has seen her government put a man on the moon, the reasoning is weak. A permeable fence, she said, built along the river should be considered.

As of October 22, the government had built 216 miles of pedestrian fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border and 154 miles of vehicle barriers.

But of the 110 miles of fence planned for Texas, only 3.3 miles are complete, according to Customs and Border Protection.

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