McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The state of Texas is planning to build nearly 14 miles of new border wall in Del Rio and the Rio Grande Valley, but it’s unclear exactly where, and environmentalists tell Border Report they want more information.
The Texas Facilities Commission last week approved two contracts not to exceed a total of $307 million to build 30-foot-tall metal bollards using surplus federal government material and identical in design to the Trump-era border wall.
This will add to the 1.77 miles of state-funded border wall that has been built in rural Starr County in the Rio Grande Valley.
The state border wall is part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star border security initiative, which also solicits private donations for the border wall barrier.
TFC commissioners on Thursday unanimously awarded a contract for $167 million to Southwest Valley Constructors Company to build 6.77 miles of border wall in the Del Rio Sector. They awarded another contract for $140 million to BFBC of Texas LLC, to build 6.95 miles of border barrier in the Rio Grande Valley.
The structures will not be built on state-owned land and are to be constructed mostly on private land, as well as municipality-owned land that has not yet been acquired, Border Report has learned.
“We’re still negotiating for the land,” TFC Communications Specialist Francoise Luca told Border Report on Tuesday.
“Under the state procurement law, first contracts are awarded then contracts need to be negotiated and executed and then pre-planning, so there’s quite a few steps before construction begins,” Luca said.
The project has come under scrutiny by Democratic state lawmakers, like Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, of McAllen, who has questioned the costs and the need for the state to build a barrier, which he says is a federal responsibility.
During Thursday morning’s TFC online meeting, TFC Executive Director John Raff told commissioners: “We have a high degree of confidence we’ll be able to close the easement agreements.”
“Would be good to know where,” Scott Nicol, a longtime environmentalist from McAllen told Border Report on Tuesday. “The state should release maps and contracts.”
But Luca said the contracts have not been drawn up yet and officials are still deciding which parcels to approach landowners about based on security needs that are determined by the Texas Department of Public Safety and Abbott’s office.
On Thursday, commissioners did not seem too concerned about the actual locations and did not mention specific areas, but questions did come up about the $27 million difference in pricing between the two contracts for about the same amount of border wall to be built.
Raff explained the Del Rio project involves more difficult topography that drives up costs to an average of $25 million per mile. The Rio Grande Valley border wall is expected to average about $20 million per mile.
“We’re sort of marrying up to a natural barrier, like a bluff or a cliff,” Raff said. “So that drives up the cost.”
The materials are from the federal government’s surplus program and are the same steel bollards and beams that were produced for the Trump-era border walls that were halted by the Biden administration.
In a July 7 media release, Abbott said state officials have acquired “1,700 unused steel panels to build the border wall in Texas.”
Nicol wants to know why the costs are so high if they are using surplus materials.
“These costs really look inflated,” Nicol told Border Report.
He also worries about environmental damage to the South Texas border where miles of border wall have already been built, and miles more of barrier are going in, which the Department of Homeland Security calls “remediation efforts” to fix topography altered during the border wall construction.
“These border walls will inflict terrible damage to border ecosystems and communities just so that Abbott can whip up his xenophobic base ahead of the election. Texans are paying hundreds of millions of dollars for his re-election campaign,” Nicol said.
The state-funded border wall is part of the $4 billion that the Texas Legislature appropriated for border security as part of Operation Lone Star.
“Operation Lone Star continues to fill the dangerous gaps left by the Biden Administration’s refusal to secure the border,” Abbott’s office said in a statement issued Friday.
“While securing the border is the federal government’s responsibility, Texas will not sit idly by as this crisis grows. Texas is responding with the most robust and comprehensive border plan the nation has ever seen,” Abbott said.
So far, over $55 million has been received in border wall funding donations, according to the governor’s office.