IBWC grants $6.4M for border levee repairs in South Texas town of Peñitas

The Border Wall

MISSION, Texas (Border Report) — The International Boundary and Water Commission has granted a $6.4 million contract to fix a gap in the Rio Grande flood control levee near the South Texas town of Peñitas.

Approximately 800 linear feet “of levee improvements” will be made, including “levee construction, construction of floodwalls, replacing an existing gatewell structure, and the construction of levee ramps,” according to the U.S. Section of the IBWC, the international agency that oversees the Rio Grande.

The earthen border levee — which lines the Rio Grande in Hidalgo County — was built for flood control measures decades ago.

However, several sections of the border levee in the nearby towns of Palmview and Mission were damaged during the construction of the border wall during the Trump administration.

Last year, the Department of Homeland Security agreed to repair sections in these areas after Hidalgo County officials had threatened to do the repairs themselves.

Barriers prevent vehicles from going through a gap in the IBWC’s earthen levee in Palmview, Texas, as seen on April 14, 2021 prior to repairs made. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

This new IBWC project does not involve any border wall construction, however, it does involve filling in dirt gaps of the earthen levee on the border in the town of Peñitas, as well as building a concrete flood wall there, IBWC officials said.

The project is Phase II of an initial project involving the Hidalgo County Irrigation District No. 1’s Edinburg Pump House. During Phase II, floodwalls built under the first phase will be tied in “closing the gap near the pump house,” according to the IBWC.

“By closing the levee gap, this project will provide flood protection for the cities of Peñitas and Mission, Texas,” said Juan Uribe, IBWC area operations manager for the Lower Rio Grande Flood Control Project.

There are currently several “levee remediation work” projects in the works throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

This drone photo taken Jan. 7, 2022, from the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, shows border levee clearing, construction and border bollards being put in through a federal wildlife refuge called El Morillo. The body of water to the right is a canal. The Rio Grande is to the left and not visible. (Photo by the National Butterfly Center)

Environmentalists tell Border Report that too much construction is dangerous to the area’s delicate borderland ecosystem, and they question whether all the work being done is really necessary.

This includes construction and land clearing through part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Corridor run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A concrete flood wall and what U.S. Customs and Border Protection describes as a “guard rail” is being placed just west of the National Butterfly Center, south of Mission, Texas.

Construction crews hired by DHS work Jan. 11, 2022, to repair the levee and put in metal bollards atop the levee in Mission, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Environmentalists argue that the railing is border wall bollards that are just reduced in height.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, is seen on May 4, 2021, standing before a gap in the levee in Palmview, Texas. Cuellar said this week that he helped to get $6.4 million through the IBWC to fill in a levee gap in the nearby town of Peñitas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who represents this district, said through his office that the Peñitas IBWC project has nothing to do with border wall construction.

And in a statement, Cuellar said this Peñitas project is necessary for the safety of area residents.

“In order to guarantee the safety of the residents of Peñitas, it is vital that we repair the gap in the flood control levee. If left unattended, we could face severe consequences and put the lives of people in the community at risk, ” Cuellar said. “These repairs will ensure that the levee fulfills its purpose. I want to thank the United States International Boundary and Water Commission for awarding this contract in a timely manner to protect the residents of South Texas.”

Federally-hired crews repair levee “guard rails” atop a construction site in Palmview, Texas, on Sept. 29, 2021, as part of levee remediation projects throughout Hidalgo County, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

Environmentalist Scott Nicol says the new border bollards being placed in Mission and Palmview and atop other area levees, in his opinion, are like border walls and are not needed.

“These new border walls are going up in Rep. Cuellar’s district, but he has not made any attempt to stand up for his district and halt this construction,” Nicol told Border Report.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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