Saturday, February 7, 2009

Visual Aid: County officials to review construction plans for border fence

Brownsville Herald
February 7, 2009
by Laura Martinez

As Cameron County officials review visuals of what the border fence will look like in the county, Brownsville city officials are set to vote on whether to allow fencing on city property.

The City Commission will vote whether to accept a proposed agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that would allow the construction of a floating fence on city property.

For more than a year the city has been in negotiations with the DHS to allow the city to remove the fence, once construction begins on the proposed East Loop and River Levee city projects, officials said.

"Nobody wants a fence," said City Commissioner Anthony Troiani, "but the fact is they (the federal government) own the property and they are going to do what they are going to do. If we can't come up to an alternative where we can benefit, we are really kind of being short sided."

City officials said if approved, Brownsville would be the only city between San Diego, Calif. and the rest of the southern border that would be able to remove the fence for a local project.

"We are the only the community all along the entire border that will have the opportunity to actually remove this fence that is mandated by Congress. I think that is huge," Troiani said.

According to City Attorney John Chosey, once the fence is removed the city will regain the title and possession of the property.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokesman Lloyd Easterling said he could not comment on ongoing negotiations between the city and CBP.

The border fence issue in general will be discussed at a 6 p.m. Thursday public hearing in City Hall chambers. A vote on whether to accept the construction of a removable fence will follow.

The City Commission and Brownsville Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr. are encouraging residents to attend the hearing. The mayor said he opposes the fence's construction in general for several reasons. Ahumada said the fence would not only harm the ecological corridor but it would impact the future development of a river walk.

"I caution the commission not to throw away all these things that benefit the city or put the city in a better position to bring damages against the Department of Homeland Security."

He added the fence affects a lawsuit filed by the Texas Border Coalition against the federal government.

"Should this (the fence in Brownsville) be executed everything becomes moot," Ahumada said

Ahumada also said he was not privy to the ongoing fence discussions between the city and DHS. Troiani, however, disagreed with the mayor, saying Ahumada chose not to participate in the negotiation process.

Meanwhile, County Judge Carlos H. Cascos received simulations last week of what the proposed border fence in the county will look like.

A floating fence also is planned for an unincorporated or rural area of Cameron County. Bollard and picket fences also will be used in rural areas, according to information supplied to the county by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

A bollard fence is similar to concrete pillars seen in front of retail stores, such as a Wal-Mart.

Although county officials knew the border fence was planned to be constructed in some portions of the county, they had no idea what it was going to look like, Cascos said.

Cascos assumed it would be similar to that of the "China wall," or it would "look more like a prisoner of war camp" type of fence, he said.

Although the county opposes the fence, there is little hope that anyone will be able to stop construction, he said.

Easterling said that has of Friday, the fence was still being worked on and that the DHS had not received any word from Congress to halt construction.

The fencing in Cameron County will be constructed at Nemo Road and Weaver's Mountain near Harlingen; West and East Los Indios; La Paloma; Ho chi Minh-Estero ,also near Harlingen; and the Riverbend Resort Water Tower and the PUB fence line in Brownsville.

Also included is the extension of Palm Boulevard to the Fort Brown golf course; the Fort Brown golf course to the Veterans International Bridge port of entry; and Veterans International Bridge to Sea Shell Inn.

Last month, huge dump trucks could be seen traveling to and from the river levee near Riverbend Resort, where 1.6 miles of the fencing is being constructed.

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