Monday, May 18, 2009

Ortiz opposes seizing city land for border fence

Brownsville Herald
May 17, 2009
by Emma Perez-Trevino

As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security moved to take possession of city property for a border fence between Brownsville and Matamoros, U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz expressed his displeasure.

"I am not pleased," Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, said of DHS' move amid negotiations with the city on a proposed levee-temporary fence alternative. Ortiz's spokesman Jose Borjon said Friday that the congressman had asked DHS not to begin proceedings to take possession of city land.

The Brownsville Herald also learned that Ortiz is attempting to obtain funding for the levee-temporary fence alternative.

This comes on the heels of DHS' trip to the federal courthouse May 12 to file the motion to take possession of 15.919 acres of city land, although DHS officials say talks with city officials continue in an effort to reach an agreement on a temporary fence.

Under the proposed agreement, DHS would build temporary fences on the East Loop levee and between the Gateway International Bridge and the B&M Bridge. Control of the property would revert to the city when the city provides replacement barriers, including construction of a new levee.

The temporary fence would be removed by DHS if there is funding. If there were no federal funding, its removal would be the city's responsibility. The city also would bear the cost of the replacement barriers.

"But at what cost to the city?" Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr., who favors developing a dam as a natural barrier, said of the proposed agreement on the table.

The mayor said the cost to the city could be as much as $13 million and that the city does not have the money.

Ahumada said that instead of fighting among themselves, city officials should have been using the time to strategize in opposition to the border fence.

Ahumada also said that Ortiz had initially supported the weir project as a barrier and wondered why the congressman is now supporting a temporary fence. Borjon said that Ortiz continues to support the weir project, but not as an alternative to the fence.

Regarding the motion for possession that DHS filed, Ahumada said, "What do we do now? What I've said all along; we should be looking for a third party to mediate and that is U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen."

The federal case is before Hanen's court.

DHS' motion is slated to be on Hanen's court docket June 1.

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