DHS issues environmental waivers for 65 miles of border wall in South Texas

The Border Wall

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Environmentalists and local leaders in South Texas were furious after learning Thursday that the Department of Homeland Security has waived environmental regulations in three counties in order to expedite construction of 65 new border wall.

DHS on Thursday announced that it had issued a waiver to hasten new border wall construction in the counties of Hidalgo, Starr and Cameron. The waiver was published in the Federal Registry on Thursday, and “will ensure expeditious construction of approximately 65 miles of new border wall system within U.S. Border Patrol’s (USBP) Rio Grande Valley Sector,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a news release.

“President Trump continues to blatantly misappropriate government funds, ignore the pleas of Texas landowners and seize land like a medieval feudal lord,” U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat whose district includes Hidalgo County, said in a news release.

Scott Nicol, who is on the executive committee of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club told Border Report that “waiving laws is a clear admission that Trump’s border wall will violate those laws.”

The waivers will allow construction to begin despite environmental regulations that protect endangered species, and laws pertaining to the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Nicol, who also is co-chairman of the Borderlands committee, added: “There is no reason to waive the Safe Drinking Water Act unless their plans will threaten our drinking water. They are waiving the Endangered Species Act because they know that border walls will push endangered species closer to extinction.”

Jonathan Salinas of the No Border Wall coalition called the waivers “a hit-list,” to South Texas.

“Today’s waivers are but another reminder that in the name of national security all things are possible, including wholesale disregard for the human and environmental rights of border residents. These waivers virtually cover the whole of the Lower Río Grande Valley not yet waived, including wildlife refuge tracts which are intended to protect and preserve that which the government is now intending to destroy,” said Salinas, who also serves on the executive committee of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.

Some areas will be exempt from border wall construction in South Texas, including: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, La Lomita Historical Park, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, within or east of the Vista del Mar Ranch tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, or the National Butterfly Center, DHS said. This is because Congress refused to fund border wall construction if those areas were included.

At question is still whether a one-third mile section of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, in Alamo, Texas, will be exempt from construction. This section had been purchased by Santa Ana from private landowners and appears to be on border wall construction plans released by CBP.

Read a previous Border Report story on Santa Ana and this section here.

Acres of steel bollards, which locals in South Texas believe will be used to build the border wall, are seen from a local highway in Mission, Texas, on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. The area is protected behind razor wire and visitors are not allowed. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

This is not the first time the Trump Administration has waived environmental regulations in order to build new border wall miles on the Southwest border. And as the 2020 presidential election nears, President Donald Trump has increasingly boasted on Twitter with regularity about the number of border wall miles already built, under construction and about to begin.

CBP said the waivers were needed to quickly fill in gaps in the existing border wall because the Rio Grande Sector accounts for 40 percent of all migrant apprehensions in the nation, and ranks No. 1 for seizure of cocaine and marijuana on the Southwest border.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, represents Hidalgo County in South Texas.

Said Rep. Gonzalez: “We do need to secure our border and crack down on criminal activities. But that is done best by engaging with our Mexican and Central American neighbors to address the violence and economic inopportunity in their countries and investing in technology and human capital — not building a frivolous border wall.”

The cost for the 65 miles of new border wall in the three counties could total $811 million, CBP has said.

The waivers come just as 300 National Guard troops have arrived in the region to help patrol the existing border wall and new construction areas, U.S. Border Patrol told Border Report. The National Guard troops will reliev U.S. Army soldiers.

Many residents in South Texas are angry by what they call a “militarized” presence. Read a previous Border Report story on the ‘militarization’ of the region.

“We call on the U.S. Congress to repeal this waiver authority which allows the executive branch to legally commit crimes against humanity,” Salinas said.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.

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