Construction of first border wall segment to begin sooner than expected along Rio Grande

Border securityConstruction of first border wall segment to begin sooner than expected along Rio Grande

By Kiah Collier and T. Christian Miller

Published 1 August 2017

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will begin constructing the first segment of President Trump’s border wall in November through a national wildlife refuge, using money it has already received from Congress. This is what a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official recently told a nonprofit group that raises money to support two national wildlife refuges in South Texas, according to the group’s vice president.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will begin constructing the first segment of President Trump’s border wall in November through a national wildlife refuge, using money it has already received from Congress.

This is what a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official recently told a nonprofit group that raises money to support two national wildlife refuges in South Texas, according to the group’s vice president.

“I was alarmed,” said Jim Chapman of Friends of the Wildlife Corridor. “It was not good news.”

For the past six months, CBP has been quietly preparing a site to build a nearly 3-mile border barrier through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, according to The Texas Observer. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also has reportedly begun drilling and soil testing in California and New Mexico.

But construction on the wall was not expected to begin until January because Congress has yet to approve CBP’s budget. On Thursday, the House approved a spending bill that contained $1.6 billion to build pieces of the wall in Texas and California. Its fate in the Senate is uncertain.

However, CBP recently told a senior Fish and Wildlife Service official in Texas that the agency would shift funds to pay for the new segment out of its current budget. The official passed on the news to Chapman’s group this week.

The Fish and Wildlife Service official confirmed the remarks, but asked not to be identified for fear of losing his job.

Customs and Border Protection spokesman Carlos Diaz said it “would be premature to speak about specific locations.” The only South Texas projects authorized under the current budget are the installation of 35 gates at gaps the agency left in the existing border fence, he said.

The 2,088-acre Santa Ana refuge, located along the Rio Grande south of McAllen, is considered one of the nation’s top bird-watching sites, with more than 400 species of birds. The refuge is also home to two endangered wildcats — the ocelot and jaguarundi — and some of the last surviving stands of sabal palm trees in South Texas.

A wall cutting through the refuge could do serious environmental damage, Chapman said, undermining the reason Congress appropriated money to buy the land in the first place. But under a 2005 law, the Department of Homeland Security can waive any environmental regulations that would normally impede construction in a sensitive wildlife area.

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