McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The Center for Biological Diversity is demanding more information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on recent border barrier construction and how it could be affecting the environment and wildlife in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.
The nonprofit filed a lawsuit on Jan. 27 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., claiming the Army Corps has failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests to provide records “showing action taken by the Defendant in response to the Corps’ analysis for the current construction plan for the levee and/or flood barrier system work of approximately 13.4 miles in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas.”
“The borderlands were plundered under Trump and now the Biden administration refuses to release important public documents that could show if the levees were damaged,” said Paulo Lopes, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The Defendant’s failures to comply with FOIA harms the Center’s ability to provide full, accurate and current information to the public on a matter of public interest. Absent this information, the Center cannot advance its mission to protect native species and their habitat,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit specifically refers to sections of the earthen border levee system that were affected by border wall construction during the Trump administration. Last year, the Biden administration agreed it would fix giant holes punched through the levee system, which were made to get heavy equipment south of the levee for border wall construction.
After President Joe Biden halted border wall construction there were concerns by local Hidalgo County officials that the levee would falter in extreme weather events and flood, due to the gaps. That’s when DHS said it would shore up the levees.
But Lopes told Border Report on Friday that the administration appears to be doing much more than just putting in dirt.
Now there are 6-foot-tall metal bollards atop concrete in many areas throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
Officials with the Department of Homeland Security have repeatedly told Border Report they are “border guard rails.” These sections, they say, are helping to shore up the levee.
“We want to see the analysis by the Army Corps to see were the levees actually impaired and where? Because it appears some portion of existing earthen levees were never touched and now Army Corps and CBP say they were degraded and ‘we’re going to fix it’ and by ‘fix it, we’re going to put up Trump-style border wall’ as opposed to earthen levee which they’ve done over the years,” Lopes told Border Report.
In December, the Center for Biological Diversity indicated it would sue the Biden administration citing concerns that the environment and wildlife were not being properly considered with ongoing border barrier construction in South Texas.
Ocelots and other endangered species live in the region and Lopes told Border Report that a comprehensive environmental review in accordance with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) is necessary to really know what the construction impact could be.
“If the Biden administration and DHS were serious about this they would rescind the waivers and do a proper environmental review under NEPA and under the Endangered Species Act,” Lopes said Friday. “We know there are ocelots there but we do not know to what extent they may be affected.”
Earlier this week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced it was seeking public input on 86 miles of border wall construction planned during the Trump administration. CBP is also asking for suggestions on alternatives for border security.
Comments can be submitted until March 7, after which the agency said it will conduct an environmental assessment. Public comments can be emailed to: RGVComments@cbp.dhs.gov. Include the subject line: “Rio Grande Valley Environmental Planning.” That also is the email to sign up for two Feb. 8 webinars that CBP is hosting on the issue.
But Lopes pointed out, however, that environmental waivers granted for border construction in South Texas under the Trump administration still remain in effect and have not been lifted. And so the administration is not beholden to comply with NEPA standards until those waivers are rescinded.
“They have not rescinded the waivers that Trump issued,” he said. “So this is technically not a review under NEPA.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.