Newly released records have cast light on the Army Corps of Engineers’ assessment of border wall plans in South Texas. Spanning 33 miles across the Rio Grande Valley, the 15 proposed walls would tear through wildlife habitats, RV parks and involve costly legal battles over the Trump administration’s efforts to acquire privately held land.
The documents, obtained by the Texas Observer with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, have broken down the ease of building each segment into “least challenging,” “challenging” and “most challenging.” Only seven of the proposed 21 sections are rated as “least challenging,” with challenges for the other tracts ranging from existing infrastructure to unequal terrain.
“Nice RV park, many retirees live there permanently. Western half of segment will impacts upward of 100 homeowners,” reads a two-mile-long “most challenging” entry. Another notes that the wall will need to cut through a dam that holds back a nearby town’s reservoir of drinking water. Others comment on the proximity of housing along the wall’s route, leading to questions over how the federal government will try to reconcile building on private land when there are already 320 cases in the Rio Grande Valley pending from a similar 2007 expansion.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Trump administration has tried to push through border wall construction in the area. The 2,088-acre Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in South Texas is one of the largest refuges in the country, but the federal government has already begun plans to bisect the park with a levee wall. Despite the backlash from the public and government officials, the government owns the refuge and work is moving forward.
Labeled as a pilot project, the images released today depict a concrete based wall topped with 18-foot-tall steel bollards. Reportedly costing $15 million per mile, the Army Corps anticipates a completion date of July 2019.
However, these new documents show that the levee wall isn’t Santa Ana’s only concern. The administration now wants to add a 150-foot-wide paved enforcement zone running south of the levee wall, complete with 120-foot surveillance towers, lights, and underground motion sensors.
Scott Nicol is co-chair of the Sierra Club’s borderlands team, and put in the original FOIA request.
“With this type of construction it would be difficult for Santa Ana to stay open,” said Nicol.
The enforcement zone isn’t just limited to the refuge, according to the Army Corps’ analysis. Several entries comment on the difficulty of acquiring the land required for the zone, with one stating “Church and cemetery directly impacted by enforcement zone.”
The release of this feasibility study closely follows the recent unveiling of eight border wall prototypes. Although funding for the border wall is still being fiercely contested, it seems the Trump administration is moving ahead in any way it can.