Thursday, July 19, 2012

IBWC says 'yes' to border walls in Los Ebanos, Roma and Rio Grande City

Rio Grande Guardian
July 19, 2012
by Steve Taylor

MERCEDES, July 19 - The U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission has confirmed it will not object to plans by the Department of Homeland Security to build border walls in Los Ebanos, Rio Grande City and Roma.

Rodolfo Montero, Rio Grande Valley area operations manager for the IBWC, spoke about his agency’s decision at a meeting of the IBWC’s Lower Rio Grande Citizens Forum in Mercedes on Wednesday afternoon.

Montero said the U.S. would not be breaking any international treaties if it went ahead with federal plans and built permeable border walls in the floodplains of Los Ebanos, Rio Grande City and Roma over objections from Mexico.

Montero said his agency will hold a public meeting in the Valley soon to discuss the border wall plans.

“Mexico may not want the wall for X or Y reason but we have to a sound, technical, advice for us, the U.S. IBWC, to reject it. We are not breaking the treaty,” Montero said, in response to a reporter’s question.

The United States and Mexico are joint partners in the IBWC. Unlike other border walls, those proposed for Los Ebanos, Roma, and Rio Grande City would be in floodplains with levees.

To the dismay of many border residents and environmentalists, IBWC recently announced it would not oppose plans by the Department of Homeland Security to build an additional 14 miles of walls in Los Ebanos in Hidalgo County, and Roma and Rio Grande City in Starr County.

“These three border wall sections, totaling 14 miles, were not built when other parts of the Rio Grande Valley were walled off because of the serious danger they pose to communities on both sides of the river,” said Scott Nicol, a member of No Border Wall and the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team, in a recent guest column in the Guardian.

“On the U.S. side they could block the exit of flood water into the Rio Grande, bottling it up in towns and farm land and exacerbating the damage that they suffer.”

Nicol said the new border walls could also deflect flood waters towards Mexico, worsening flooding in Mexican communities. “Deflection might even cause the river to settle into a new channel farther to the south, which would effectively change the location of the border,” he said.

Nicol attended the quarterly Lower Rio Grande Citizens Forum on Wednesday. He asked Montero why IBWC had not held any public meetings about its decision on the new border walls. Montero said the issue was addressed by an engineer in the agency’s planning department at the last citizen’s forum in April. This meeting was also attended by IBWC Commissioner Edward Drusina. There were no reporters at that meeting and so there was no news coverage of IBWC’s decision.

Montero also said IBWC will be holding a public meeting in the Valley to talk about the border walls in the near future. He said he wanted to get with Nicol and the Sierra Club to find out a suitable date. Asked by a reporter if the meeting would be in Roma, Rio Grande City or Los Ebanos, Montero said the location has yet to be decided.

Nicol quizzed Montero about the type of border walls that might be built. He said if they are the same as those built in Cameron County they will be susceptible to collecting debris in the event of a hurricane. The walls in Cameron County consisted of six inch wide iron beams with four inches of space between them. Nicol said he wanted to know how it was determined that this type of structure would only prevent ten to 25 percent of flood water passing through during a hurricane.

“From El Paso to San Diego, every time a wall crossed a wash there was obstruction. Debris built up and got up to six feet deep. The wall became impermeable. It became a dam. There is no explanation in the 2011 report for South Texas as to why that wouldn’t happen here,” Nicol said.

Montero responded that Nicol would have to ask the engineers about this at the public meeting.

Responding a question by a reporter about Mexico’s stance on the border wall, Montero said the U.S. and Mexico are sovereign countries. He said the model used in studies conducted by Mexico show a solid, impermeable, wall. The border walls in Los Ebanos, Roma and Rio Grande City will not be impermeable, Montero said. “They have not brought the technical argument. Mexico has to provide sound, technical, advice (why the wall should not be built),” he said.

Former Cameron County Commissioner John Wood is a member of the IBWC Lower Rio Grande Citizens Forum. He has been a fierce opponent of border walls along the U.S.-Mexico border and has visited locations throughout Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to see the impact they have had.

“My experience is whatever DHS wants, DHS gets. It doesn’t make any difference what IBWC or Fish & Wildlife or local Border Patrol agents want. DHS in Washington are going to get what they want,” Wood said.

“They have already decided they do not have to follow any NEPA requirements, they do not have to follow anything. If that is what they want that is what they are going to do.”

Nonetheless, Wood said he encourages communities opposed to the border walls to continue their resistance. “They (DHS) ought to follow their own guidelines but they don’t.” Wood got a laugh from many in the audience when he said that talking to DHS in Washington is like “talking to the wall.”

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