Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Officials worry border fence expansion will be harmful to El Paso

El Paso Times
February 23, 2011
By Adriana Gómez Licón

Local officials worry that a fence project proposed by Customs and Border Protection near UTEP may leave a flood-control structure isolated, inaccessible and an easy target for vandalism.

"It is one of our most important structures, where we receive our water coming down from the American Canal," said Jesus "Chuy" Reyes, general manager for El Paso County Water Improvement District.

Officials met Tuesday afternoon at City Hall to discuss the impact the proposed border fence would have on El Paso.

CBP plans to fence a .65-mile stretch in the Hart's Mill Crossing area -- south of UTEP and west of Downtown. On the Mexican side, there are poor neighborhoods in Juárez that have been plagued by multiple and drive-by shootings.

The irrigation district has a generator that controls floodgates that send drinking water from the canal to the El Paso Water Treatment Plant between March and October, Reyes said.

What Reyes wants is for the CBP to shift its project south of the American Canal so that it leaves the structure accessible and protects El Paso from floods. The structure would still be on the U.S. side of the border, but it would be fenced off, according to the CBP plan.

So far, CBP officials have told him the project would cost $14 million to $16 million if the plan is changed, compared with $4 million or $6 million if the location stays the same.

Reyes did not invite the CBP to Tuesday's briefing.

"The original design and alignment was problematic due to levee stability issues and perceived real estate issues," said Ramiro Cordero, spokes man for the U.S. Border Patrol.
Cordero said his agency continues to negotiate with the irrigation district and the International Boundary and Water Commission.

The Hart's Mill Crossing area now has no border fence. Fencing from Downtown ends where the flood-control structure is and continues half a mile north.

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, brother of Jesus Reyes, said that though he wants to see the border protected, the CBP should consult with community agencies.

"It's not a good answer to say it's too expensive," Silvestre Reyes said. "I mean, how expensive would it be if terrorists poison the water or do something else to take out our infrastructure."

Ed Drusina, commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission, said CBP and local agencies will have to find a middle ground to decide the location of the fence.

"I see very clearly the city has a serious concern to protect the water in that stretch of the channel," he said.

"That's why we want to work cooperatively with the city and the DHS," the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the CBP.

El Paso Mayor John Cook said he hopes the CBP rethinks its strategy.

"This is a community issue that impacts our ability to provide water to the community," he said.

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