EDITORIAL: Be cautious with border wall; cutting corners can be costly

President Donald Trump’s border wall is imminent in Hidalgo County.

Landowners along the border have started to receive letters regarding the federal government’s planned barrier along the Rio Grande, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection office recently released a map detailing where the wall will run.

Officials should do their best to ensure that the wall be as effective as possible, but also as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

The structure incorporates much of the easement created after the Secure Fence Act of 2006 authorized the creation of a barrier along the entire 2,000 miles of U.S. border with Mexico. A little less than 700 miles of fence were erected.

It appears that the land acquisition process proved to be more daunting than federal officials initially thought. In addition to large variations of conditions along the border, especially along the Rio Grande riverbanks, the DHS also had to deal with many landowners who didn’t want to sell or who balked at the low purchase price the government offered relative to the land’s appraised value. This led to rerouting and costly litigation, both for the property owners and the government.

Hidalgo County officials, to their credit, convinced the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages these kinds of construction projects, to design portions of the fence so that they reinforced the levee system that mitigates flooding in the area.

Local officials have made similar recommendations with regard to the current wall project; we hope the government is receptive to the idea and that it is possible.

One problem affecting the planned wall is that the Rio Grande obviously is not straight, but has twists and turns all along its banks. The map CBP released recently shows that in many areas, officials plan to shorten sections of the wall by cutting across some of the turns. Not following the river moves the wall line far from the border — miles, in some cases.

Because most land in Texas, including along the border, is privately owned, the shortcuts could prove costly, as officials found in Cameron County when the first fence was built a decade ago. Cutting corners ran the structure through unreasonable amounts of property, rendering hundreds of acres farmland — upon which the local economy depends so much — useless. Many people found their homes in the no-man’s land between the river and the fence, which even runs through part of the Texas Southmost College campus.

It’s likely that the litigation and related costs offset any savings that officials might have expected from shortening the fence line. In addition, the encroachment forced officials to design gaps in the fence so that people could access their own property, which largely defeated the effectiveness of the multibillion-dollar project.

We hope that the current administration learned from the initial fence project, and takes these matters into consideration.

Like so many people with personal knowledge of the border, we insist that simply building a wall won’t stop encroachment by immigrants and smugglers. A comprehensive strategy utilizing barriers, electronic sensors and surveillance is needed to be effective.

Officials should take this in mind, and not invest so much in a wall that won’t measure up to the cost of land acquisition, litigation and related losses.

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