CBP seeks entry onto RGC school district land

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will begin surveying land belonging to the Rio Grande City school district, possibly for the purposes of a proposed border wall.

The RGC school board approved a request from U.S. Customs and Border Protection Monday to enter onto the district’s property for survey and site assessment.

Board President Daniel Garcia said he couldn’t comment on whether it was for border wall since CBP did not specify the purpose of the assessment.

However, the land they will survey is located by the Rio Grande River, Garcia said.

“It didn’t affect anything having to do with the school,” he said of the site. “It was more toward land that we don’t even use that’s by the river.”

Garcia said trustees only approved an assessment and expected CBP needing to seek further board approval for any additional action.

“I would assume that’d be the next step,” he said. “Once they complete their survey, for whatever purpose they’re doing their survey, I guess we’ll be informed on what’s the next step or what they’re planning.”

The request from CBP signals the government’s plans to move forward with constructing a border barrier in Starr County. In March, Congress approved 8 miles of border wall approved in the omnibus spending bill, which also included 25 miles of new levee wall along the Rio Grande.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, met with CBP officials who informed him they’re moving forward with trying to acquire land.

“Generally speaking, they’ve got the funds and they’re in the process,” Cuellar said.

“They’re going through the process of trying find land,” he said, adding that officials are facing difficulties with identifying some land owners.

Ownership of some private land, particularly in Starr County, goes back to Spanish land grants, making it hard to determine who owns it.

However, even if the property owners are known, the congressman said the process of taking the land would likely be long and difficult.

“I’m sure there will be lawsuits that will be filed or have been filed,” he said, “but they’re moving and in my opinion it’s not as fast as everybody thinks it’s going to be.”

Cuellar said he was not briefed on details on what property or where officials were looking at for the border wall.

In April, Starr County officials confirmed they met with government officials who informed them wall construction would begin east of the Fronton area and extend 5.5 miles into Escobares. However, uncertainty remains regarding Roma’s downtown area.

Two other local entities, the cities of Donna and Mission, and the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, also received requests from CBP for permission to survey the land, The Monitor previously reported.

The city of Donna approved the request while the Mission City Council has not yet taken up the item for consideration, though the council previously passed a resolution publicly opposing construction of any border barrier. It’s unclear if the Diocese approved the request.

If it is the case that CBP wants to survey the school district’s property for the border wall, Garcia said he understands the need for security but lamented the possible environmental effects.

“I’m not really for that, but I guess it’s the federal government’s decision to decide if we need a wall or not,” he said.

bereniceg@themonitor.com