Monday, July 27, 2009

Lawmakers: Border fence has drawbacks

El Paso Times
July 25, 2009
by Diana Washington Valdez

EL PASO -- U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and 42 other lawmakers are asking Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to reduce the damage to communities and the environment caused by border barriers and other security border operations.

On Friday, the lawmakers sent Napolitano a letter detailing their concerns and asking her to act on them.

A spokesperson for the Homeland Security Department in Washington, D.C., was not available late Friday for comment.

In some places along the border, some of the security structures have worsened seasonal flooding, according to a 2008 National Park Service report, and may be hurting the Tijuana River habitat, the lawmakers said.

"This massive federal project has had deleterious consequences upon natural and cultural public resources, and has caused hardship for private land owners whose lands have been condemned and livelihoods have been disrupted," the letter said.

Oliver Bernstein, spokesman for the Sierra Club in Austin, which supports the legislators' campaign, said U.S. Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., is helping to spearhead the effort.

"The Sierra Club has been working to get congressional support for this type of review that would lead to undoing the damage to wildlife," Bernstein said. "There's been increasing awareness of the damage caused by the (fence) project."

Border interdiction activities, such as the use of off-road vehicles and low-level flights, also damage the environment, the letter said. Lawmakers recommend training and other measures to reduce the damage.

Bernstein said the House had voted to delete money for additional border fencing, but the Senate restored the money in its appropriations bill.

Border Patrol officials said the border fence planned for the El Paso sector has been completed.

In a statement, Reyes said, "It is imperative that the Department of Homeland Security work closely with other federal agencies and border communities to mitigate the negative environmental impact the border fence has caused in some areas.

"Federal agencies currently do not have adequate monitoring in place to address the disruptions that resulted from the border fence, and we are urging Secretary Napolitano to implement a border-wide strategy to deal with these problems."

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