February 16, 2009
by Kevin Seiff
A Brownsville nature preserve has responded to the government's attempt to condemn its land to build the border fence.
The Nature Conservancy - which owns and operates the Lennox Southmost Preserve - claims the U.S. Department of Homeland Security failed to follow federal regulations in attempting to acquire the organization's land.
In a motion filed on Feb. 6 to dismiss the government's land condemnation case, Nature Conservancy attorney Kimberli Deagen Loessin wrote, "the government has failed to meaningfully negotiate with landowners for the property interest sought." DHS offered $114,000 for just over eight acres of the organization's land.
Laura Huffman, the Conservancy's Texas state director, said in a December press release that the offer "doesn't begin to make up for our inability to manage the more than 700 acres of our preserve that lie between the proposed fence and the Mexican border. This land is, quite literally, irreplaceable."
The Nature Conservancy also claims that the government has never provided an accurate property description of the land to be condemned.
"Likewise," the lawsuit continues, "the government has not provided information regarding how access will work through the border fence gates." Such information, organization officials say, is particularly critical in the case, as a large portion of the preserve's 1,034-acre preserve could be left behind the barrier.
DHS Spokesman Michael Friel said he could not comment on the pending litigation.
The Nature Conservancy bought the land for Southmost Preserve in 1999 for $2.6 million. It now provides a habitat for thousands of native plants for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The preserve is one of two major environmental refuges in Brownsville - along with the Sabal Palm Audubon Preserve - that is expected to be divided by the barrier.