Environmental Rules Waived for TX Border Wall


In the latest installation of the U.S.-Mexico border wall saga, President Donald J. Trump recently allowed for construction to begin on a section of the wall in Texas without customary environmental reviews. Construction has also begun on the first section of border wall in the state since the president took office.

In the latest waiver, more than 30 regulations were dismissed, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The waiver applies to border wall set to go up in the Rio Grande Valley sector, one of the busiest regions along the border.

Border Wall Saga

In September 2017, the first border wall contracts were awarded to four different companies to develop prototypes that would work in conjunction with the border in the San Diego area. U.S. special forces spent weeks attempting to breach the eight prototype models of the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, which proved to withstand jackhammers, torches and climbing tools.

Since then, the government has worked to speed up the project. In October 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that any environmental regulations regarding the construction or repair of a section of the border wall for certain areas in Texas would be waived, drawing ire from environmentalists and private property owners alike.

The announcement detailed exemptions in Cameron County; another announcement made the following day detailed similar measures for Hidalgo County. (Additionally, in July of this year, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $33 million contract for four miles of border wall work in Texas. Environmental regulations for that section of structure were also waived.)

And in December 2018, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced the beginning of construction of a series of border wall gates in the Rio Grande Valley sector. But in January, a report revealed that all eight border wall prototypes, inspected by Trump last March, were susceptible to breaching. Several million in other contracts for other border wall work had also been awarded elsewhere.

Toward the end of May, a judge blocked Trump’s use of money originally intended for military funding, for work on the border wall. The injunction only accounted for roughly $1 billion in funding for the border wall, money that the Department of Defense had funneled away from Army personnel to the Department of Homeland Security. Earlier in the summer, a federal judge blocked the Trump administration from using $2.5 billion in funding for the border wall.

However, in September, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper approved $3.6 billion in funding—largely pulled from military construction projects, including housing—to go toward building 175 miles of the wall. Shortly after, the Pentagon released a list of the projects that have been financially deferred.

Recent Project Waivers

In an announcement posted to the Federal Register on Oct. 31, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan noted that the regulations had been waived for work in three Texas counties, adding that the measure was in line with the presidents focus on securing the border.

Additionally, the announcement also includes the construction of barriers, as well as roads. This work covers excavation and site work, creating site access, establishing and maintaining border barriers and necessary infrastructure for erosion and drainage, as well as security measures including lighting.

Work is also to take place near environmentally sensitive areas, including Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. According to Texas Public Radio, no construction work will take place in Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, La Lomita Historical Park, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, within or near east of the Vista del Mar Ranch tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge or the National Butterfly Center, due to restrictions put in place by Congress.

Texas Border Wall Construction

Ricky Garza, staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, noted that the construction that has commenced in Texas is still on government land, though “the majority of the land along the Texas border is private.” The Project is currently representing five landowners in eminent domain cases, and Garza went on to emphasize the diversity of landowners involved in these cases.

“So this is not something that’s only happening to distant landowners or absentee owners,” Garza said. “This is something that really would cut through the character of the Rio Grande Valley in a visceral way.”

According to CNN, what makes this work additionally of interest is that border wall is being built where there was no barrier before. The barrier in question is a 30-foot-tall of levee wall and bollard fencing set on top.

Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan recently expressed his appreciation for the rate at which construction was moving, noting that people would start seeing “an increase of the miles of wall being built every week, and by the end of 2020, you're going to see 450 miles of new wall in strategic locations, mission-critical spots, built by the end of 2020.”


Tagged categories: Construction; Environmental Protection; Government; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management

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