McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Concrete was being laid on the riverbed of the Rio Grande on Monday to anchor a 1,000-foot-long string of giant orange buoys that is being put in the middle of the international river in Eagle Pass, Texas, a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman told Border Report.
The $1 million string of buoys could be in place by late next week, DPS Lt. Chris Olivarez said.
The spherical 4-foot to 6-foot wide balls will have some type of netting underneath and will be tethered to concrete anchors to keep the string in place.
But Olivarez doesn’t know what type of netting will be used, and that worries environmentalists like Tricia Cortez, who runs the nonprofit Rio Grande International Study Center.
“We don’t know exactly what are the nets that are going to be attached to them. But certainly, there are particular nets where animals go through and they can’t get out. So they’re going to remain trapped down there,” Cortez told Border Report.
Cortez is also the co-founder of the No Border Wall Laredo Coalition, which on Friday held a news conference in Eagle Pass with the Eagle Pass Border Coalition to denounce plans for the new marine barrier.
The buoys are part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, which he says will curtail illegal crossings from Mexico.
“We already have such a decline in many fish species, and it’s really sad. And to think that this is going to deter migration is pretty wild at a cost of $1 million dollars for 1,000 feet. That’s just kind of outrageous,” Cortez said.
“This isn’t a partisan issue, this is an environmental issue and this is about living in a city where outsiders are learning that they can come in and decide what to do with our home and believe that no one will speak up,” Robie Flores, an Eagle Pass filmmaker and coalition member, said in a statement.
“Like the federal and container fence, these buoys will change the way water flows and therefore change the river channel itself. This could cause habitat in and around the river to change and if these buoys become detached they will cause damage to downstream bridges and dams,” said Adriana Martinez, a fluvial geomorphologist from Eagle Pass who has studied the effects of border wall construction on the Rio Grande.
Giant shipping containers have been placed on the U.S. embankment for over a year in Eagle Pass, and are visible from Piedras Negras, Mexico, the city across the river. Spools of concertina wire also have been laid on the ground and over the containers to deter migrants from crossing illegally.
Now the first marine border barrier is going up.
“That is a highly mobile river. And it’s impacted constantly by wind currents flows, other forces,” Cortez said. “With time, the next big flood event, they’re gonna break loose. They’re so massive and big. We’re really concerned about the damage that’s going to cause as it goes downstream and affects the river channel and erosion and if it’s going to hit structures. It doesn’t make any sense.”
The owner of an Eagle Pass kayaking company has filed a lawsuit to try to stop the deployment of the buoys in the middle of the Rio Grande.
On Friday, Abbott tweeted about the lawsuit, saying, “We’ll see you in court,” and, “This is going to the Supreme Court. Texas has a constitutional right to secure our border.”
Olivarez told Border Report that the marine barrier is designed to deter migrants from trying to cross the dangerous Rio Grande, which is called the Rio Bravo in Mexico because the river is so fierce.
“It’s a deterrent. It’s another tool to deter people from crossing the river. The river is already dangerous. So by doing that, it will prevent drownings because if people see a barrier, then they shouldn’t cross the river or try to go to the port of entry where it’s much safer,” Olivarez said.
The string will be put south of the two international bridges, will not be visible from the road, and it is being built in deep water, he said.
“It’s gonna be placed in areas where we’ve seen the majority of crossings taken place. So hopefully, that’ll prevent and deter people from trying to cross the river. And with that, hopefully we can we can save lives and prevent potential drownings,” he said.
There were four drownings of migrants over the Fourth of July weekend in Eagle Pass, including an infant, which Olivarez said DPS troopers responded to.
The Border Patrol Del Rio Sector, which includes Eagle Pass, has had the second-highest number of migrant crossings this fiscal year so far, with over 268,000 encounters, according to May encounter data by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The International Boundary and Water Commission, which oversees all river activity for both countries, told Border Report the agency is still studying the issue.
“We are still studying the publicly announced plan and will monitor developments,” an IBWC spokesperson said.