By Daniel Borunda / El Paso Times
EL PASO -- A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed by El Paso County, the city of El Paso, environmental groups and others against the controversial border fence, County Attorney José Rodríguez's office said Friday.
The lawsuit argued that Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff did not have the authority to waive 30 environmental and other laws to construct the fence, described as the "border wall" by its opponents.
U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo ruled that the waivers to expedite the construction of the fence were constitutional "because 'Congress constitutionally delegated its authority in the Waiver Legislation.' "
Rodríguez said in a statement that plaintiffs have 90 days to file an appeal to the Supreme Court, and that an appeal by the firm Mayer Brown LLP of Washington, D.C., was already being prepared Friday.
El Paso Mayor John Cook said he and other mayors of Texas border cities are not necessarily opposed to fences.
"But we are opposed to them putting them in without local input," Cook said.
The border fence in El Paso, which stands 15 feet tall, has been the target of marches and protests, including a small demonstration Friday evening where a section of fence is being installed near Yarbrough Drive.
Proponents of the fence said that it would help secure the border by stopping drug-loaded vehicles from driving across, and that, if the fence didn't stop undocumented immigrants, it would at least slow them long enough to give Border Patrol agents time to catch them.
Fence opponents call it a costly eyesore that sends an unfriendly message while damaging the environment.
"The wall is an environmental disaster," said Bill Addington, who's on the executive committee of the Rio Grande Sierra Club Chapter and whose family owns land in Hudspeth County near the border.
"It is immoral -- an immoral crime for anyone to put up a barrier or wall between animals that need it (the Rio Grande) for drinking water," Addington said. "You are also fragmenting habitat. All these animals that have traditionally gone back and forth cannot pass."
Wednesday, Homeland security officials told Congress that the 670-mile fence might not be finished this year and that it was $400 million over budget because of increased fuel and steel costs and limited available labor.
About 340 miles of fence has been built. Congress so far has approved $2.6 billion for constructing the fence.
Daniel Borunda may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6102.