Monday, February 23, 2009

Border Patrol discovers underground tunnel in Otay Mesa

February 23, 2009
San Diego Union Tribune
By Debbi Baker

SAN DIEGO – Border Patrol agents discovered an underground tunnel in Otay Mesa on Saturday that authorities suspect was built to connect a storm drain in the United States to a pipeline in Mexico for smuggling purposes.

The passageway, which was about 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall and reinforced with wooden beams, was discovered about 110 feet north of the border near Via de la Amistad, just east of the Otay Mesa border crossing, said Border Patrol Agent Richard Smith.

Agents suspected that the tunnel is linked from the storm drain to a parallel natural gas pipeline that is not in use.

It appears that the tunnel had been used recently, Smith said.

It was found after members of the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, which is made up of the U.S. Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Drug Enforcement Administration agents, came across the information while investigating recent smuggling activity in the area and conducted a search, Smith said. No arrests have been made and no contraband was found.

In December officials discovered a cross-border tunnel just west of the San Ysidro border crossing after a bus tire sank into a road along the border fence.

That tunnel, which was about 15 feet underground and 3 feet in diameter, extended about 10 feet into the United States but had no exit, customs spokeswoman Lauren Mack said.

The tunnels, which are used to smuggle people as well as drugs into the United States, range from crude to elaborate.

One that ran underground from a house in Tijuana to a San Ysidro parking lot had electricity and ventilation and a pulley system designed to transport bales of marijuana. They have also been found with lights, water pumps and hydraulic systems as well as rails for electric cars and concrete floors and walls.

At least 75 of the clandestine passageways have been found along the U.S.-Mexico border since the 1990s, according to U.S. immigration and customs officials.

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