Friday, July 31, 2009

Border fence access, compensation questions to be presented in federal court today

Brownsville Herald
July 30, 2009
by Laura B. Martinez

Construction of the border fence has stalled in the most southern parts of Cameron County because of unanswered questions brought to light by affected landowners.

They want to know what land the government is actually seizing from them and how they will gain access to and from their property.

These questions could be answered today in federal court where several landowners and representatives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will face off again on the battle for the land, including areas deemed "no man’s land."

U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in May suspended some of the fence’s construction in Cameron County after learning that the landowners were concerned that access to their lands could be cut off and their concerns about the types of gating to be used.

Also in question is what land the government would pay for, including that in front and in back of the fence that some landowners believe would become worthless and hard to sell.

Much of the land is farmland.

Although construction continues on a section that runs east of Brownsville along Oklahoma Road and Highway 4, portions affected by lawsuits remain either untouched or unfinished.

"We felt absolutely compelled to raise these issues with the court and every landowner out there whose property is being taken by the government should do the same," Kimberli Loessin, attorney for several property owners covered by the judge’s order, said in a June 10 e-mail to the Associated Press. "Otherwise, lawsuits move forward, fences get built, and compensation gets determined without the government ever admitting to what it is really taking away from landowners."

Claude R. Knighten, spokesman for U.S. and Customs Border Protection’s Secure Border Initiative in Washington, D.C., said while the lawsuits may have caused some construction delays, reported figures that the delay is costing the government about $57,000 a day are untrue.

The delay costs will be compiled once the construction crews contracted to build the fence turn in their invoices for reimbursements, Knighten said.

In May, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Hu told Hanen that a delay could cost the government $10,000 to $15,000 a day, because the contracts had been awarded and the crews were ready to work, the Associated Press reported.

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