CBP awards contract for 3 miles of border wall in Starr County

A US Border Patrol agent patrols north side of border wall at the edge of a sugarcane field March 30, 2016 near Progreso. photo by joel Martinez/jmartinez@themonitor.com

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials announced in a news release Tuesday that the agency has awarded a new contract for 3 miles of steel bollard fencing in Starr County.

The $42,860,000 contract, which was awarded to Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. with fiscal year 2019 Homeland Security appropriations, is the latest to be awarded by CBP — in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — as part of efforts to erect a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley. Construction, which will include 18 steel bollards at the standard 30 feet in height, is expected to begin in August.

The awarded new barriers, which would be the only in Starr County once constructed, would be placed on federal land between Salineño and Escobares, but not within city limits.

The border wall, once complete, will be located 5 miles north of Salineño, and 5 miles west of Escobares, but it will not be in the city limits of either city, a CBP official said.

CBP said the 3 miles will be the first of about 53 miles slated for Starr County, which includes appropriations funded in fiscal year 2019.

“We have about 53 miles of requirements in Starr County that we expect to execute with the funding we were provided for in the FY19 appropriations,” the CBP official said.

In early February, heavy equipment arrived in Hidalgo County just days after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials announced that bulldozers and other heavy equipment were going to be arriving, marking the official start of the government’s efforts to build physical barriers along the levees in Mission.

Congress approved border wall funding last March as part of a $1.3 trillion omnibus bill that gave $1.6 billion for border walls along the U.S.-Mexico border, 25 miles of which would be for levee wall fencing in Hidalgo County and 8 or so miles of fencing in Starr County.

Last October, the Army Corps of Engineers awarded SLSCO Ltd a $145 million contract to construct about 6 miles of levee wall system, and a month later it was awarded an additional $167 million for another 8 miles in Alamo, Donna, Weslaco, Progreso and Mercedes.  

“The levee wall system will be very similar to levee wall constructed in the RGV area during 2008, but the system will also include all-weather roads, lighting, enforcement cameras and other related technology,” the news release at the time stated.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, introduced language in the latest border security negotiations that was included to prevent construction on environmentally sensitive areas, including the butterfly center, and the aforementioned Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.

Congressman Cuellar also voted in favor of the original levee wall fencing that was constructed in the Valley in 2008.

Despite the exclusion of the environmentally sensitive areas, several local residents and property owners who will be impacted by the coming border wall construction remain fearful of how much of their land they’ll lose when the construction begins.

The idea of border walls, which is not a new concept in the Valley with levee and steel bollard walls already in Hidalgo and Cameron counties, began anew in July 2017 when the executive director of the National Butterfly Center found federal contractors on its land, surveying for future construction of new barriers.

Though no new border wall barriers have gone up in the Valley as of yet, CBP officials said the next steel panels should be constructed in the next month or two, contingent on the availability of real estate.

“We have a couple of contracts that were awarded using our FY18 appropriation, in Hidalgo County … well, those will include 13 miles of barriers when all is said and done,” the CBP official said. “Right now we’re still clearing real estate for those (contracts), so the work we’re doing is predominately in road construction. There is not any additional new barriers that has been constructed in RGV yet, though that process should begin very shortly.”