July 1, 2011
by Jonathan Clark
Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on a border fence replacement project in Nogales that has been a technically challenging but assault-free experience for workers, authorities said Thursday.
With only a quarter-mile left to go on the 2.8-mile fence, Granite Construction is slated to wrap up the $11.6-million project on July 22, said Sabri Dikman, acting patrol agent in charge at the Nogales Border Patrol Station. Work began in early March.
Speaking at a press conference at the corner of Nelson and East International streets, Dikman called the replacement of the landing-mat barrier with a bigger, stronger bollard-style fence, “a project that is significant to the community of Nogales and the Border Patrol agents who work in Nogales.”
“This is going to be able to provide our agents the ability to see potential threats that approach the border, and be able to proactively react to those threats,” he said as a crane hoisted a panel of see-though, interconnected-tube fencing into place on the hillside behind him.
But while agents have faced assaults – especially rock-throwings – from hoodlums in Nogales, Sonora who have used the flat-panel landing-mat fence as cover, no construction workers on the project have been assaulted, Dikman said.
Mike Tatusko, projective executive for Granite Construction, confirmed that his crews have been kept well protected and safe.
“(Security) was something we addressed and were very mindful of daily, but CBP has given us great support and we haven’t had any issues,” he said.
As the old fence came down across from the Buenos Aires neighborhood on the east side of Nogales, Sonora, crowds of dozens of people would gather to watch. Tatusko said the observers came out of curiosity – or to try to salvage bits of the old fence – but didn’t abuse the workers physically or verbally.
“We had no issues whatsoever,” he said.
The rugged terrain of central Nogales presented plenty of issues, however, as the Granite crews worked to access and dig into the steep and rocky hillsides. “That’s almost a 60-percent grade right there,” Tatusko said, pointing to the hill above Nelson Street.
“In more forgiving areas, we can do up to two or three miles in a week,” he said. “When it’s situations like this, it might be two or three (eight-foot) panels a day.”
Do’s and don’ts
The new fence is grounded by a six-foot-deep concrete footer, and while there are no drainage tubes built into the footer, Tatusko said, there are drainage ways and gates built sporadically along the fence to help with runoff during coming monsoon rains.
The construction of those gates has also proved to be a challenge, as so even after the old fence was torn down, workers have had to leave a few spots covered with temporary barriers as they continue on, Dikman told the Nogales International.
“That’s a vulnerability and they certainly take advantage of it. So that’s why we’ve seen activity in those specific areas where, as they build and construct, there are some gaps,” he said. “On July 22, those will all be gone.”
Some residents east and west of town have expressed concern that a more impenetrable border barrier in Nogales will push more illegal activity into outlying areas. Dikman said the completed fence would allow the Border Patrol to focus more on those trouble spots.
“As the fence is completed, we’re able to adjust our resources to meet any potential threats to the east or the west, or the more remote areas,” he said.
Dikman also reaffirmed the Border Patrol’s hands-off approach when it comes to people who want to socialize with friends or relatives across the new see-through barrier.
“As long as they’re not passing persons or contraband across the fence, we welcome the cross-border communications,” he said.
A Sonoran reporter asked Dikman if the Border Patrol would allow artists in Mexico to hang artwork on the south side of the fence – such as the community mural painted on the landing-mat fence west of the DeConcini Port that was saved from demolition. But Dikman said his agency couldn’t allow anything to obstruct the sight lines through the fence.
“We don’t advocate … that people damage or alter the fence,” he said. “It’s owned by the United States government.”