By Jonathan Clark
November 12, 2010
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is set to break ground on five infrastructure projects in Nogales during the next six months. The ambitious plan calls for simultaneously upgrading downtown pedestrian crossings, securing drainage tunnels, building nearly seven miles of new roads, and replacing the city’s landing-mat border fence.
CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin, who announced the projects during a community meeting Thursday at City Hall, called the construction plans “proof of progress” toward securing the border.
“Building a strong infrastructure, together with the dedication of agents, together with the technology, together with the delivery of consequences to those who violate our laws, is the best way for us to secure this border,” Bersin said.
According to CBP Chief of Staff Marco Lopez, the five projects carry a combined price tag of $41 million, and all are scheduled to be completed by September 2011. One of the jobs, a reconfiguration of the Morley border gate to improve pedestrian flows, will be finished by Nov. 29, he said.
CBP will also reconfigure the pedestrian walkway at the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry, beginning before the end of the year. The renovation will be finished “in early 2011,” Lopez said.
However, the renovations at Morley and DeConcini do not include a SENTRI pedestrian lane, which would allow pre-approved, low-risk travelers to enter the United States through a fast-moving, dedicated line.
Guadalupe Ramirez, CBP’s port director in Nogales, said his agency needs to determine how to modify and adapt SENTRI equipment before it can be applied to local pedestrian lanes.
“We haven’t started on the implementation, but we are extremely serious about it,” Ramirez said. “It’s got to happen.”
Fencing and drainage fixes
The 2.9 miles of landing mat fence constructed though downtown Nogales in the early 1990s has since then become an albatross for Border Patrol agents and local leaders alike. The Border Patrol complains that it’s simple to cut through and easy for criminals to hide behind, while merchants and other residents call it an eyesore.
Now it will be replaced by 18-foot-high bollard fencing, a series of interconnected, concrete-filled steel tubes that allow visibility from one side to the other, Lopez said.
CBP also plans to team with military engineers to build 6.8 miles of new border road to the west of downtown. The roadway will provide Border Patrol agents with better access, and local residents with better security, Bersin said.
The final piece of the five-part puzzle is a project to upgrade the grates in the city’s sewer tunnels, “to see to it that the drainage system of Nogales serves the purposes of waste treatment and not of smuggling,” Bersin said.
Engineers will arrive in town in the next two weeks to begin planning the larger projects, Lopez said. At the same time, CBP will hold community meetings to solicit input from local leaders and residents.
“It will have an impact on your downtown, it will have an impact on all activities that are taking place,” Lopez said, noting the aggressive timeline of the effort and the fact that five projects will be underway at once. “But we are committed to working with you to try to minimize it as soon as possible.”
City Manager Shane Dille said city and CBP officials would have to work in close coordination to minimize disruption to local life.
“Obviously were going to be working hand-in-hand with them to make sure that coordination happens,” he said.
Dille also expressed enthusiasm for the economic impact of the projects – as did Mayor-elect Arturo Garino.
“With government projects, you’re looking at a good-sized chunk of money that comes into the community,” said Garino, who noted that hotels, restaurants and equipment rental firms all stand to benefit.
“I do wish that we can get a percentage of the workforce from Nogales residents,” he added. “It will be a good stimulus opportunity for Nogales.