By March 7, 2022
Send your own comments to the Department of Homeland Security by emailing: [email protected] with “Rio Grande Valley Environmental Planning” in the subject line. Ask Secretary Mayorkas to restore the environmental laws designed to protect the public and express your opposition to the 86 miles of new border wall.
Below is a pre-fabbed body of a letter that can be used, all, in part , or in combination with your own comments:
The 86 miles of new border wall described in Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) request for scoping comments would tear through ecosystems and local communities that have never had border walls, inflicting terrible damage. Combined with the border walls that have already been built, nearly the entire Lower Rio Grande Valley would be cut off from the Rio Grande. The federal government should recognize the damage that these walls would inflict and abandon the project.
Border walls planned for Starr, Hidalgo, and Cameron counties would repeatedly cut through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge system consists of over 100 tracts of land that follow the Rio Grande, in many cases using the river to link habitat. The result is a wildlife corridor, allowing terrestrial animals, including endangered species such as the ocelot and jaguarundi, to move from one piece of viable habitat to another as they search for food and mates.
The request for scoping comments describes two border wall designs: bollard border walls, consisting parallel steel posts spaced 4 inches apart that stand thirty feet tall; and levee-border walls, where existing levees in Hidalgo County have their river-facing side excavated and replaced with a vertical concrete slab that will average 15-18 feet tall, and topped with an additional six feet of steel bollards. Both designs would be an environmental disaster.
Both designs block the movement of wildlife. Bollard walls are impassible for animals wider than four inches, including ocelots, javelinas, bobcats, deer, and others. Existing bollard walls have 8” X 10” openings in certain locations, but these are too small for many important animals. CBP has not indicated whether such openings will be in the new bollard border walls. Because the border walls will have a 150-foot-wide “enforcement zone” cleared of all vegetation and with a patrol road lit up by flood lights it is unlikely that most wild animals would be brave enough to search out and use small openings even if they were included.
Levee-border walls are even worse for wildlife. They are completely impassible, even to animals such as indigo snakes that could squeeze between bollards. In addition to fragmenting habitat they block the escape of terrestrial animals when the Rio Grande floods. In 2010 floodwaters reached the levees, and the existing levee-border walls, and lands between the levees and walls and the river wre inundated for months. Terrestrial animals were able to walk (or slither) up and over standard levees, but were blocked by levee-border walls. US Fish and Widlife reported that when the water finally receded they found the shells of hundreds of dead Texas tortoises that had drowned in refuge tracts.
In Starr County, where there are no levees, planned bollard border walls will repeatedly intrude into the Rio Grande floodplain. When bollard walls have been built across washes and arroyos in Arizona the spaces between bollards have become clogged with debris during floods, turning them into soldi dams. The same thing is certain to occur in the Rio Grande Valley. Walls crossing drainages will block water from flowing into the Rio Grande, worsening flooding and exacerbating erosion in communities and the wildlife refuge. CBP has not indicated whether these walls will have flood gates, but the flood gates deployed in Arizona have repeatedly failed. In some instances flood gates have been torn off their hinges, while in others sections of border wall have been swept away. CBP has not come up with a design for flood gates that are not prone to failure.
There is also the fundamental issue of access to the lands behind the border wall and the Rio Grande. The river is the ecological lifeblood of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and at the heart of our community’s identity. Walling off the length of the river from Falcon dam to almost the mouth of the Rio Grande and restricting access to residents and ecotourists alike will be profoundly damaging to both our communities and our economy.
Finally, this supposed Environmental Assessment is being carried out while the National Environmental Policy Act is waived for wall construction, meaning that the legal framework for an Environmental Assessment is not in place. It may resemble an Environmental Assessment, but there is no guarantee that it will meet all of NEPA’s requirements. If it is not sufficiently rigorous, if alternatives to the proposed border walls are not examined, if there are not adequate mitigation and remediation measures, there will be no way for stakeholders to bring challenges. The only way for this process to have credibility is for the Secretary of Homeland Security to rescind the border wall waivers of environmental (and other) laws, thereby restoring the National Environmental Policy Act.
Correction to February 2022 Newsletter Article
86 Miles of “Not One More Foot of Wall” See https://www.sierraclub.org/borderlands/real-id-waiver-authority-compromises-our-borderlands for a list of the federal laws that the DHS Secretary has thus far waived, including the National Environmental Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and many more. “The waiver provision…is a grave threat to the checks and balances within the United States Constitution…continuing to allow this type of precedent to stand is a threat to environmental protection across the country, not only on the border.”