ALAMO, Texas (Border Report) — A video recently shot by an environmentalist shows a crane hoisting metal bollards onto what appears to be a new section of border wall in South Texas, but officials say the work does not involve expanding the border barrier.
Scott Nicol, former chairman of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Campaign, told Border Report that he shot the video while walking on the earthen dirt levee around noon on Tuesday near the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.
“I was actually really pretty stunned because there is a lot more very fresh construction than I would have expected,” said Nicol, who regularly checks on border wall sites throughout the region.
He put the video on social media, and it has drawn widespread criticism and comments, raising questions about the Biden administration, which has promised to halt all new border wall construction.
This particular site is called RGV02 and the contractor is SLSCO, which in 2018 was awarded a $167 million contract from the Trump administration to build 8 miles of new border wall.
But when President Joe Biden took office in January, he halted all new border wall construction and promised his administration would not build another foot.
Biden has, however, advocated for border security and it is widely expected that all-weather access roads, floodlights and camera technology will be put along the border.
In a statement to Border Report on Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said, “activities shown in the video are of six-foot guardrail being installed to support levee repairs. The guardrail and associated gates sit atop the reinforced levee system and is part of DHS’ plans announced April 30 to reduce flooding risk to border communities in the Rio Grande Valley near McAllen, Texas. The levee repair work will not involve expanding the border barrier.”
But Nicol said he believes his video shows a crane lowering a section of new, rusting bollard wall and he says he saw construction crews grab it and put it into place atop a concrete mold. He told Border Report that is something he never imaged would happen under the Biden administration.
“The fact that SLSCO is building new wall in places where there had never been a wall and doing it in what’s supposed to be in the middle of Biden’s pause, that really surprised me,” Nicol said.
Border Report on Friday morning went to the area where Nichol shot the video and was promptly told that no one was allowed on the levee, which is owned by the International Boundary and Water Commission and which is accessible only to construction crews, law enforcement and the Border Patrol, which heavily patrol the levees in their vehicles.
But Border Report did see heavy equipment moving dirt on the southside of the border wall, as well as a few single bollard panels that had been placed with large gaps in between.
U.S. Army Corps officials said the construction activity is related to a promise by the Biden administration to shore up the levee and border wall areas to make it flood-proof. Several large breaches were made in the earthen border levee during the construction of the wall during the Trump administration.
“Construction under the prior administration blew large holes into the Rio Grande Valley’s flood barrier system to make way for a border wall. The flood barrier system had long provided low-lying regions of Hidalgo County, Texas, protection from catastrophic flooding, and these breaches have threatened local communities. DHS will start work to quickly repair the flood barrier system to protect border communities. This work will not involve expanding the border barrier,” DHS wrote on its website on April 30.
The situation had been so dire that Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez had threatened to send his own work crews in to fix the gaps prior to the start of the June 1 hurricane season. But the Biden administration acquiesced and agreed to fix the spots. Cortez has told Border Report it will take several months for all of the repairs to be completed.
But Nicol is skeptical and does not believe that is what is actually going on.
“What they were supposed to have done back in May was take those areas where levees had been torn open and fix them before we got into hurricane season. But putting a bollard on top of a wall has nothing to do with flood protection,” Nicol said. “The levees were ripped open.”
Putting a bollard on top of a wall has nothing to do with flood protection. … The levees were ripped open.”Environmentalist Scott Nicol
Officials with the Texas Civil Rights Project agree.
“Guardrails or not, these are border walls and we cannot be fooled into thinking they are repairs to the compromised levees the administration identified earlier this year. Despite what administration officials want us to believe, border wall construction continues in South Texas,” Eduardo Martinez, a member of the Rio Grande Valley No Border Wall Coalition said in a statement.
“We are in hurricane season. The levee did not need to be ripped out, and all of this steel and concrete used to build walls is a waste,” said Ramona Casas, a member of the RGV No Border Wall Coalition, a multilingual collective of community organizations in the Rio Grande Valley.
“The real connection to flooding here is that thousands of families across the Valley could have used this money, all of these resources, to protect their homes and livelihoods. Our homes get destroyed every year and instead of investing in solutions, the government wastes money on more walls and the militarization of our home.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.