RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas (Border Report) — Starr County Industrial Foundation staff spent the past year coming up with proposals to show the U.S. Department of Homeland Security where border walls won’t stymie economic growth, protect private property and keep their rural county safe.

These detailed plans, which foundation President Rose Benavidez shared with Border Report at her offices earlier this week, include building segments of the border wall much closer to the Rio Grande and away from residential areas and downtown Rio Grande City, and utilizing underground sensors and overhead tethered aerostat radar technology.

The plans were sent to DHS in early August and represent the overall collective wishes of Starr County officials, Benavidez said. Her agency, which is responsible for promoting the economic growth of this county of about 70,000 in South Texas, was selected to be the mouthpiece and liaison with federal officials. And for a year, Benavidez has been its voice.

“We sent a proposal for the communities individually and collectively that gave some options on design and alignment that we felt were acceptable for the communities, but also met their operational needs,” Benavidez said. “We have had some feedback, we’re waiting to have more discussions. But the honest truth is that as this process continues to move forward we truly believe that there’s an opportunity for us to help DHS and Border Patrol with their operational needs while simultaneously creating the kind of economic progress that we need to protect private property rights.”

But on Thursday afternoon, U.S. Customs and Border Protection wrote in an email to Border Report that they have rejected those plans submitted by the Starr County Industrial Foundation for a border wall, saying, “CBP has reviewed the proposed plans by the Starr County Industrial Foundation and is not able to incorporate the proposed design due to the Government’s treaty obligations with Mexico and the operational requirements of the U.S. Border Patrol.”

No specifics were explained as to why the multi-page plans have been scrapped. CBP did not disclose what their construction plans are for this county but they did say they would continue to keep local leaders informed.

“Pursuant to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Fiscal Year 2019 Appropriation, CBP completed consultation efforts with local elected officials who represent the areas of Roma, Escobares, La Grulla, Rio Grande City, and Saliñeno in Starr County, Texas concerning the proposed alignment and design of the planned border wall system in the affected areas. Although the consultation period is now closed, communication between CBP and the affected areas will be on going as construction progresses. The border wall alignment is not publically (sic) available.”

In September, CBP announced plans to build 52 miles of border wall, which would stretch across the entire length of Starr County.

Rose Benavidez is president of the Starr County Industrial Foundation, which submitted proposals to DHS for border wall placement in Starr County. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Benavidez said Friday that she has not received any kind of official notification from DHS that they are not using their plans. She would not comment until she is officially told, she said.

But whether Benavidez is told remains to be seen.

Lately she has not been invited or privy to several meetings between Border Patrol officials and local city leaders, she said. This happened after she voiced to them concerns over some of their alignment plans, which she fears would place the wall through farms and communities.

She also is now skeptical about the federal government’s tactic, which she said has been to approach leaders of small communities, like Escobares, and get their individual buy in to their plan. This divides the county’s voice, she says, and diminishes their overall position.

Benavidez and other local leaders say CBP’s proposals — which were sent out to county leaders in late June — are eerily similar to plans DHS drew up in 2007 after the passage of the 2006 Secure Fence Act to build a border levee wall then. These plans were scrapped, however, after the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission expressed written concerns that building a border levee system in this flood-prone county would violate the 1970 water treaty with Mexico by causing flooding and water to deflect from the Rio Grande.

The June 27 letter sent to Benavidez and other Starr County and city leaders from CBP contained rudimentary maps they said were very small and very hard to decipher exactly where they planned to build the border wall — or Border Infrastructure Project, as CBP officially calls it.

These border wall plans were sent by CBP in June to Starr County officials.

But under a codicil placed by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, during congressional appropriations negotiations for border wall funds last year, DHS is required to consult and obtain “mutual consent” with local Starr County leaders. Which leaders, however, was never officially explained, Benavidez said. And a Sept. 30 date for consultation with local officials has already passed.

“I put the language where they have to sit down,” Cuellar told Border Report recently. “They’re talking and trying to find a mutual agreement, but in my opinion, they haven’t really done that. They have to listen to the local folks.”

They have to listen to the local folks.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas

CBP said in its email they do intend to continue communicating with local leaders, writing: ” Although the consultation period is now closed, communication between CBP and the affected areas will be on going as construction progresses.”

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