CBP: Prep work for wall construction has commenced

In this Jan. 9, 2019 file photo, construction crews install new border wall sections seen from Tijuana, Mexico. (Gregory Bull | The Associated Press)

NEAR DONNA — U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said preparation for wall construction in rural Donna has begun.

During a CBP-led media tour in rural Donna, near Military Highway and the Lacoma Refuge Friday morning, contractors could be seen working to prepare the preliminary elements for a border barrier.

CBP officials said the contractors began preparation of the enforcement zone this week, which includes preparing the ground and installing elements of technology that will be used for detection.

The zone that’s being worked on is two projects that span approximately 13 miles between the Donna and Progreso ports of entry.

The area toured Friday was approximately 7 miles; heavy equipment and contractors parked on the south side of the levee where the land the enforcement zone will be located was being worked on.

The construction of the enforcement zone, which will measure 150 feet from the levee, south toward Mexico, is part of the preparation phase that began this week, CBP officials said.

The funding for the construction was through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, for 25 and 83 miles respectively, CBP officials said.

The announcement of the new phase of construction comes several months after heavy equipment started arriving in the Rio Grande Valley.

In early February, heavy equipment began clearing out land on and near the National Butterfly Center and Bentsen National Park. Since then, not much in the way of activity has been reported as CBP officials said some land acquisition was still pending.

Litigation, from landowners and other stakeholders around Hidalgo County, including Mission landowners has also caused delays in the start of construction.

The land toured Friday is land that already has some wall barrier on the levee from construction in 2008.

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.

Construction for actual border barriers in Hidalgo County has yet to begin. During a call at the end of May with CBP officials, they noted that construction was to begin “very shortly,” pending the acquisition of real estate.

CBP officials said the construction in rural Donna, is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.