July 18, 2008

DHS awaits final approval on 'movable' border fence

By Christopher Sherman / Associated Press
Article Launched: 07/18/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT

McALLEN -- About 14 miles of border fencing planned for the lower Rio Grande Valley would be built in the river's flood plain and has yet to be approved by the commission governing the international boundary.

The "movable" fence proposed by the Department of Homeland Security would be concrete jersey barriers topped with about 15 feet of tightly woven steel fencing. The International Boundary and Water Commission is reviewing the proposal to ensure the fence does not violate treaties with Mexico and could be moved away from the river before it flooded.

Along most of the Rio Grande, the fencing intended to help Border Patrol halt illegal smuggling and immigration will run along the levees that keep the twisting river in check.

But in three areas where communities abut the river, the Department of Homeland Security plans the "movable" fencing.

A 1970 treaty between the United States and Mexico called on both countries to prohibit the building of anything that "may cause deflection or obstruction of the normal flow of the river or of its flood flows."

The key to the DHS' proposal will be convincing the commission that the three segments of the fence totaling about 14 miles -- a fifth of the 70 miles of border fence planned in the Valley -- can be moved before flood waters arrive.

"As of today, the IBWC has not approved the construction of the fence in the flood plain," Al Riera, principal operations engineer for the U.S. side of the commission, said at a public forum Wednesday.

"If they (DHS) don't show us they have something in place to guarantee removal of the (fence) panels, ... the commission would never agree to something like that."

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