While the nation is preoccupied by meetings with Russia, transgender folk in the military, and rotating White House personnel, preparatory work has begun on building three miles of Donald Trump’s border wall right through the middle of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.
Construction had been scheduled to start in January of 2018. The House approved their side of the spending bill for the next fiscal year, which includes $1.6 billion to build parts of the wall in Texas and California. The Senate has not voted yet. However, recently, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) shared that it will be using money that has already been approved from Congress. By shifting funds from the current year budget, the construction could begin as soon as November. A CBP official spoke to a Fish and Wildlife Service Official, stating that the agency would be shifting the money for new segments of the wall.
This wildlife refuge, with over 2000 acres, shares the Rio Grande River with Mexico and is considered to be one of the top birding sites in the USA, with more than 400 species. The nonprofit Friends of the Wildlife Corridor strongly opposes the construction due to the irreversible damage it would do to the refuge. However, according to a 2005 law, the Department of Homeland Security can waive environmental regulations that could interfere with construction in a sensitive environmental area.
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The wall traversing the Santa Ana Refuge will be 18 feet of concrete with 12 feet of steel fence above, it for a total height of 30 feet. There is a proposed 150-foot buffer zone that eliminates 50 acres of old-growth forest. The Friends group also pointed out that there are no passageways for wildlife which, in the case of floods, the wall will certainly trap.
Trump has not forgotten his wall, and has been pursuing it away from the headlines. In July, he stated that the wall should be transparent (so that agents can spot threats on the other side) and that it should contain solar panels to help pay for the costs of building it. The current border fence or wall, built under President Obama, cost from $2.8 to $3.9 million per mile, varying by year of construction. The current budget has around $20 million for this fiscal year.
There are 670 miles of fencing and barriers already in place, built during the George W. Bush administration, with over 100 of those miles in Texas. The refuge is the starting point for this phase of the border wall because it’s already owned by the federal government. Approximately 96 percent of the Texas border is privately owned. The Trump administration sent out condemnation letters to landowners in recent months, as a prelude to building more of the wall. Interestingly enough, 30 percent of the over 300 lawsuits filed in 2007 by Bush-era landowners are still pending.—Jeanne Allen