August 2, 2008

Texas parks commission rejects border fence offer

03:26 PM CDT on Saturday, August 2, 2008
Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission rejected a $105,000 donation from the federal government in a nixed deal that would have surrendered 2 1/2 acres of state-owned land for the border fence.

The rejection effectively adds the commission to the list of border fence opponents, and federal officials say they will now go to court to take the South Texas land.

"Construction of a border fence has impacts to fish and wildlife resources that could not adequately be compensated for by the offer of compensation," said Ted Hollingsworth, an official with the land conservation program at the state Parks and Wildlife Department.

The rebuffed deal was reported Saturday by the Austin American-Statesman.

Federal officials sought land in the Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area in Cameron County.

The real estate division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a land-for-cash swap in May. In exchange, the federal government offered to donate money to a McAllen nonprofit land trust, which could buy other land to mitigate the taking of the Las Palomas land.

The Parks and Wildlife Commission voted 6-0 against the offer in a meeting last month.

The proposed wall route would cut through the 139-acre Anacua Unit South of Las Palomas, leaving 48 acres on the Mexico side of the fence. The Anacua land, farming fields at one point, is now primarily reforested white-winged dove breeding habitat and is open for hunting.

The Corps of Engineers will take the Anacua case to federal court next, said Randy Roberts, a real estate officer with the agency.

"We have to go ahead and move forward through these projects," he said.

Earlier this week, the University of Texas at Brownsville and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security came to an agreement in which the government won't condemn any university land.

In exchange, the school will improve an existing fence that is in disrepair, invest in additional cameras and allow the Border Patrol to install its cameras and sensors on the fence.

It is a far cry from the 15- to 18-foot steel fence originally proposed that could have disrupted the university's access to its golf course, threatened plans for expansion and harmed the school's binational reputation and mission.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen accepted the deal in principle and ordered both sides to submit it in writing by Tuesday. Hanen set March trial dates for 16 other border fence cases.

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