November 11, 2009
by Ildefonso Ortiz
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s removal of more than 70 grapefruit trees from land that was once part of an orchard was the latest blow to Leonard Loop’s heart.
On Wednesday morning, members of the Loop family watched helplessly as a government contractor’s large yellow Caterpillar excavator began the process of removing the trees. The trees were removed to make way for the border wall, which is being built by the Kiewit Corporation for the DHS.
Some the grapefruit trees were more than 20 years old, said a visually saddened Loop.
"I’m pretty worn out by all of this," he said.
The removal of the trees is the latest installment in a nightmare that began more than 18 months ago when the 72-year-old Loop, who was born on his family’s property, received the federal government’s first notice of condemnation.
The notice informed him that his land would be cut almost in half with a large portion of his property sandwiched between the structure and the Rio Grande.
"My father and my grandfather farmed along the river," Loop said. "This fence will make that very difficult."
Since the wall will eventually divide his property, one of the main issues Loop had with the government was the location of access points to their land south of the wall and the rules applying to those gates.
"They (government officials) have said something and then changed their minds," he said. "At one point they said they would close the gates after 6 p.m.; then they said they wouldn’t. Its almost 2010 and I still don’t know what kind of gate they are going to put there."
According to the farmer, in order to access his property, he would have to cut through one or the other of his neighbors’ properties.
The difficult access to the property worries Loop’s wife, Deborah, because not only will her family and workers farm land to the south side of the wall, but some of her family members live there, too.
"I’m worried about the safety of my son, (Frank). His house is on the south side of the fence (which is near completion)," said Deborah Loop. "What happens if we need emergency assistance? How long will it take for help to get there and what happens if they can’t get through the gate? Now I don’t feel so free in my own country."
To make matters worse for the Loops, the government has now set their eyes on the river levee and is in the process of exercising eminent domain.
"We are not allowed to drive along the fence road or to drive onto the levee," Loop said. "We are not going to hurt anybody. We just want to be able to keep an eye on our land."