Sunday, June 21, 2009

City Commissioners Vote to Buy Brownsville a Border Wall

By Scott Nicol

On June 2, the Brownsville City Commission finally capitulated to the Department of Homeland Security’s demand that they give away city property to build the border wall. They had attempted to do this twice before, first last July and again this past February. In both instances the commissioners backed down in the face of widespread opposition from Brownsville residents. This time, however, they stuck with DHS, ignoring the will of the people by voting to give away the city’s land and to commit to build a border wall through Brownsville at the city’s expense. No other city has done so much to help build the border wall.

When the City Commissioners considered this deal last February, they issued a press release praising it, saying that
“The City of Brownsville is in the unique position to be the only border city between San Diego, California and the Gulf of Mexico to be offered the ability to remove the federally mandated border fence.” The Commissioners’ spin leaves out the fact that the initial border wall will only be removed after it is replaced with a border wall that will be far more permanent and imposing, and one for which Brownsville taxpayers will foot the entire multi-million dollar bill.

While the contract with DHS has been rewritten, the substance remains the same. The City of Brownsville will give up 15 acres of city property, which DHS valued at $123,100 when it initiated condemnation proceedings last September. The Department of Homeland Security will not pay a dime for the city’s land.

"Floating fence" border wall design in Cameron County, Texas

DHS will then build what they call a “floating fence” on the formerly city-owned property. While the City Commissioners may see the use of this border wall design as a victory, maps of the border wall released by DHS in July 2008 for their Environmental Stewardship Plan (ESP) clearly show “floating fence” on the city’s land. The ESP states, “Floating primary pedestrian fence consists of prefabricated floating fence panels placed on the levee. Floating fences are generally concrete barriers with pickets anchored on top.” This type of border wall has already been erected in parts of western Cameron County. So the floating fence is not a concession on the part of DHS, but what DHS had planned in the first place.

According to the contract, at some indefinite time in the future, the city will pay to build a levee-border wall in another unspecified location to replace the “floating fence.” It stipulates that the city must pay to buy the land for the new levee-border wall, and “construction shall be the responsibility of Brownsville, and shall not be performed by the United States or at any cost to the United States.” The bids for the levee-border walls in Hidalgo County ranged from $12 to $16 million per mile. Placing cost ahead of confidence in the quality of construction of our flood control levees, Hidalgo naturally went with the low bidder. Assuming that Brownsville does the same, the 2-4 miles of levee-border wall that will slice through the city will cost between $24 and $48 million, every dime of which must come from city coffers.

Levee-border wall under construction in Hidalgo County

Once Brownsville constructs the new levee-border wall, DHS will pay to take down the “floating fence.” Maybe. Homeland Security’s promise to pay to take down the first border wall is “subject to the availability of funding.” If they do not have the cash in hand, “then DHS shall provide Brownsville with appropriate access and authority to remove such sections and dispose of the removed material” at the city’s expense.

One new provision in the contract that the City Commission approved states that, “Brownsville shall, at its sole expense, preserve and maintain the Replacement Border Barrier.” So not only will Brownsville’s taxpayers have to pay to build a levee-border wall that none of them want, they must also pay to maintain it for decades to come.

Of course, it is unlikely that Brownsville will be able to come up with all of this money, so the “temporary” border wall will in fact be permanent.

But if they do, and private developers come through with millions more to build a riverwalk, we can look forward to long lines of tourists waiting to show their passports to go through the border wall to reach the trendy restaurants on the other side. What could be more appealing than fine dining in a no-man’s land that the Department of Homeland Security has walled off to keep “terrorists and terrorist weapons” from entering the rest of the United States?

Levee-border wall at the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse World Birding Center in Hidalgo County

Even if everything goes as the City Commission hopes, this deal defies all logic. It is as if someone took away your home, and rather than fight in court to either stop them or force them to pay you its market value of $123,100, you offered to buy them new land and build them a new house that would cost anywhere from $24 to $48 million, and you would then pay to maintain it. Accepting such a deal would certainly put you in a “unique position.”

Yet, this is the deal that Brownsville City Commissioners Anthony Troiani, Edward Camarillo, Ricardo Longoria, and Leo Garza voted to accept. Charlie Atkinson, who is a Border Patrol employee, abstained. Commissioner Carlos Cisneros and Mayor Pat Ahumada voted to reject it.

When public funds are used to build schools, hospitals, or other structures for the benefit of taxpayers, the politicians who approved the project can be counted on attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony and place a plaque telling future generations of their accomplishment. If the City of Brownsville manages to pull funds from schools, hospitals, or other projects to build the levee-border wall, I trust that the City Commissioners who voted for it will be on hand for the dedication ceremony. They can smile and wave and shake hands with the grateful residents of Brownsville, who will sleep better knowing that the border is no longer broken, that floods of terrorists no longer wash over Brownsville, and that it was their City Commission that brought about this shining moment. Engraved on a bronze plaque that will be bolted to the concrete slab of the border wall will be the names:

Anthony P. Troiani

Edward C. Camarillo

Ricardo Longoria

Leo Garza

1 comment:


To update the sorry saga of the Brownsville City Commissioners' capitulation to DHS' border wall scheme, in January 2010 the Department of Homeland Security published yet another set of notices of condemnation in the Brownsville Herald. Among those slated to lose land was the City of Brownsville. DHS intends to take a further 20 acres of city property. It would be nice to think that the Brownsville City Commission learned from the past, but so far they have not publicly uttered a word, and it is likely that they will just roll over again.