ALAMO, Texas (Border Report) — The public has through Friday to tell the federal government how they feel about a proposed 20-mile new section of border wall in rural Starr County, Texas.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection earlier this month announced it would take online comments through Sept. 15.
The agency wants to know “potential impacts to the environment, culture, quality of life and commerce, including potential socioeconomic impacts for the proposed construction of a border barrier system in Starr County,” according to a Sept. 5 letter.
The proposed barrier would be 18 feet high and, according to maps, would run from the tiny town of Salineño east past the town of Roma.
Starr County has fewer than 70,000 residents and is just west of the more populous Hidalgo County, which is home to McAllen.
The State of Texas earlier this year began building a segment of 30-foot-tall border wall in far western Starr County. And there already exists a segment of federal border wall built during the Trump administration near the tiny town of Fronton.
The new 20-mile project would be funded by money appropriated by Congress in Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 federal budgets.
Although President Joe Biden halted construction of new border wall projects when he took office, only Congress could rescind the funding for new border wall projects in the Rio Grande Valley, which include Starr County.
Scott Nicol, an active environmentalist, told Border Report that there is about $195 million in funding out of the original $1.375 billion appropriated.
“Biden is using up the remainder of that appropriation, in compliance with what Congress demanded,” Nicol said. “Instead of building more walls and inflicting more damage, CBP should use the remaining money to mitigate the damage done when other border walls were built with the FY2019 funds.”
Jim Chapman, president of the environmental group Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, which safeguards several wildlife tracks throughout the Rio Grande Valley, including the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, spoke with Border Report on Thursday at a segment of border wall located less than 2 miles west of the refuge.
He urged the public to tell CBP the reasons they don’t want a border wall to go up in Starr County.
“This is really the only opportunity the public is going to have to voice their opinion and to what degree they will listen to us, of course, you know, who knows? But I think it’s the one thing they can’t take away from us. And that’s our voice. I mean, we need to speak up,” Chapman said.
He said building an 18-foot-tall metal wall with high-tech lights and a 150-foot-wide enforcement zone and road will cut vital brushlands along the riverbank and will cut off communities in Starr County from the Rio Grande.
Many of these communities, like Salineño, were founded when Texas was part of Mexico.
“You have communities that are that are very close to the river. And you also have a greater percentage of brush and forest along the river there,” Chapman said.
He said the region is in a flood zone and he believes it would be a violation of the 1944 U.S. water treaty with Mexico to build on these lands.
He also said that walling off the riverbanks would damage the lands and hurt wildlife that wouldn’t have access to and from the river.
“What they’re proposing is that concrete footing and of course, that allows nothing to pass — no terrestrial and animals of any size, common, rare or endangered,” Chapman said. “Nothing will pass. Nothing will be able to get to the river. Nothing that’s by the river will be able to get away from the river. And when you have fire or flood, then nothing gets out.”
If the wall is built in Salineño then it will also likely cut off the Salineño Wildlife Preserve, a popular birding location that draws thousands of visitors each year from across the country and world.
The volunteer caretakers for the preserve, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told Border Report they worry that if construction begins then the preserve won’t reopen for the fall birding season and could close permanently.
Last Sunday, some residents in Starr County, organized a town hall meeting to educate the public and passed out bullet points on why they don’t want a border wall.
Comments can be submitted to CBP via email to RGVComments@cbp.dhs.gov.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.