June 2, 2009
by Emma Perez-Trevino
Between a rock and a hard place - that's how the City Commission found itself Tuesday regarding the border fence between Brownsville and Matamoros that will be constructed.
There were two immediate options: either approve an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as majority members on the commission advanced or fight to the end as the mayor urged.
Majority commissioners Leo Garza, Ricardo Longoria, Edward C. Camarillo and Anthony P. Troiani prevailed, approving the agreement.
Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr. and Commissioner Carlos A. Cisneros voted against the agreement. Commissioner Charlie Atkinson abstained.
The majority argued that the agreement allowing DHS the right of possession to 15.919 acres of city land, which DHS already has title to, provides the city with the ability to one day develop downtown and to complete the project called the East Loop, which would tie south Brownsville to the Port of Brownsville.
The agreement provides that DHS will build what the parties call "temporary" fence segments on the East Loop levee and between the Gateway International Bridge and the B&M International Bridge.
The temporary fence segments would be removed when the city constructs in their place a replacement barrier and relocates the East Loop levee. The relocation of the levee already is a component of the East Loop project.
Ahumada contended that the cost of the replacement levee and barrier is not even known, but predicted that the cost would be prohibitive. "I think the temporary wall is going to be a permanent wall," the mayor said.
"I believe we should fight DHS on the right of possession and hopefully come out with something better than what is being proposed," Ahumada said.
Troiani, through questions posed to counsel Charlie Willette, contended that DHS already has title to the property and that not entering into an agreement placed the city in the position that it could never recoup any of the land required to continue with its economic development plans.
Troiani's comments, however, also showed that he is very concerned that the agreement might not be included in the federal court's order granting DHS possession of the property.
Willette hinted that it might not be possible and that if there were any disputes in the future, these might have to be resolved in a court of claims rather than in federal district court. Willette predicted that DHS would probably object to attaching the agreement to the order of possession, but said that he would try to convince the federal court, where condemnation proceedings are under way, to allow this.
Troiani wanted the attachment of the agreement to be a condition of the agreement but Garza said it would be too risky.
Asked by Ahumada if he (Willette) trusts the federal government to keep its word, Willette summed it up: "I don't think we have a lot of choice."http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/agreement-98637-city-commission.html