Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Money on the line: Business provides steel for border fence

Brownsville Herald
January 27, 2008
Kevin Sieff

The city of Los Fresnos, known for its rodeos, biannual Elvis festivals and small-town feel, is rarely embroiled in regional or national controversy. But with a local construction company now aiding in the construction of the border fence, the barrier has become a sudden, if unexpected, topic of conversation around town.

Just outside of Meyn Sandblasting, near the intersection of Highway 100 and Paredes Line Road, the metal beams, each more than 20 feet long, are piled high. Soon, they'll be transported to Granjeno, where the border fence is being built atop Hidalgo County's levee system.

Meyn Sanblasting, a 30-year-old family business, received a subcontract from Harlingen-based Ballenger Construction to provide the fence's beams and aid in the erection of the barrier.

Ballenger received a $21 million contract from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to build the 1.76-mile Granjeno segment. Ballenger representatives could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

"With the economy the way it is, I'd be stupid to turn down the job," said Mike Meyn, the owner of Meyn Sandblasting.

Meyn wouldn't disclose how much the contract is for, but said he expected the fence to be a boon to the local economy. Despite his mixed feelings about the fence, Los Fresnos Mayor David Winstead agrees.

"I'm not happy about the way they're doing it," Winstead said, "but somebody has to provide material, and it might as well drop into the community."

But some local residents don't want their city to be at all associated with the project.

Armando Drocio might be unemployed, he said, but working on the border fence is not what he considers a respectable job.

"We're all brothers," he said, while searching for jobs at the city's public library. "We should be investing in something else."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling told the Associated Press that 601 miles of the 700-mile project along the U.S.-Mexico border had been completed as of a week ago. Sixty-nine miles of the fence - including a stretch of about 40 miles in the Rio Grande Valley- still must be built along the border to meet the goal set during the Bush administration.
Most Valley residents are still unrelenting in their opposition to the fence, even as the project nears its completion.

"Sure, it will help the local economy," said Lynn Bassford, a Los Fresnos resident. "They'll have to hire people from the community (if and) when they tear the thing down."

Ballenger received $21 million to build the 1.76-mile Granjeno segment.

Fencing costs averaged $7.5 million per mile for pedestrian fencing in 2008 - up from earlier estimates of $4 million per mile, according to the Government Accountability Office

There will be 70 miles of fencing in the Rio Grande Valley

In Hidalgo County, the fence will be 18 feet tall.


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