Rio Grande Guardian
July 19, 2012
by Steve Taylor
MERCEDES, July 19 - The U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water
Commission has confirmed it will not object to plans by the Department of
Homeland Security to build border walls in Los Ebanos, Rio Grande City and
Rodolfo Montero, Rio Grande Valley area operations manager for the IBWC,
spoke about his agency’s decision at a meeting of the IBWC’s Lower Rio Grande
Citizens Forum in Mercedes on Wednesday afternoon.
Montero said the U.S. would not be breaking any international treaties if it
went ahead with federal plans and built permeable border walls in the
floodplains of Los Ebanos, Rio Grande City and Roma over objections from
Montero said his agency will hold a public meeting in the Valley soon to
discuss the border wall plans.
“Mexico may not want the wall for X or Y reason but we have to a sound,
technical, advice for us, the U.S. IBWC, to reject it. We are not breaking the
treaty,” Montero said, in response to a reporter’s question.
The United States and Mexico are joint partners in the IBWC. Unlike other
border walls, those proposed for Los Ebanos, Roma, and Rio Grande City would be
in floodplains with levees.
To the dismay of many border residents and environmentalists, IBWC recently
announced it would not oppose plans by the Department of Homeland Security to
build an additional 14 miles of walls in Los Ebanos in Hidalgo County, and Roma
and Rio Grande City in Starr County.
“These three border wall sections, totaling 14 miles, were not built when
other parts of the Rio Grande Valley were walled off because of the serious
danger they pose to communities on both sides of the river,” said Scott Nicol, a
member of No Border Wall and the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team, in a recent
guest column in the Guardian.
“On the U.S. side they could block the exit of flood water into the Rio
Grande, bottling it up in towns and farm land and exacerbating the damage that
Nicol said the new border walls could also deflect flood waters towards
Mexico, worsening flooding in Mexican communities. “Deflection might even cause
the river to settle into a new channel farther to the south, which would
effectively change the location of the border,” he said.
Nicol attended the quarterly Lower Rio Grande Citizens Forum on Wednesday. He
asked Montero why IBWC had not held any public meetings about its decision on
the new border walls. Montero said the issue was addressed by an engineer in the
agency’s planning department at the last citizen’s forum in April. This meeting
was also attended by IBWC Commissioner Edward Drusina. There were no reporters
at that meeting and so there was no news coverage of IBWC’s decision.
Montero also said IBWC will be holding a public meeting in the Valley to talk
about the border walls in the near future. He said he wanted to get with Nicol
and the Sierra Club to find out a suitable date. Asked by a reporter if the
meeting would be in Roma, Rio Grande City or Los Ebanos, Montero said the
location has yet to be decided.
Nicol quizzed Montero about the type of border walls that might be built. He
said if they are the same as those built in Cameron County they will be
susceptible to collecting debris in the event of a hurricane. The walls in
Cameron County consisted of six inch wide iron beams with four inches of space
between them. Nicol said he wanted to know how it was determined that this type
of structure would only prevent ten to 25 percent of flood water passing through
during a hurricane.
“From El Paso to San Diego, every time a wall crossed a wash there was
obstruction. Debris built up and got up to six feet deep. The wall became
impermeable. It became a dam. There is no explanation in the 2011 report for
South Texas as to why that wouldn’t happen here,” Nicol said.
Montero responded that Nicol would have to ask the engineers about this at
the public meeting.
Responding a question by a reporter about Mexico’s stance on the border wall,
Montero said the U.S. and Mexico are sovereign countries. He said the model used
in studies conducted by Mexico show a solid, impermeable, wall. The border walls
in Los Ebanos, Roma and Rio Grande City will not be impermeable, Montero said.
“They have not brought the technical argument. Mexico has to provide sound,
technical, advice (why the wall should not be built),” he said.
Former Cameron County Commissioner John Wood is a member of the IBWC Lower
Rio Grande Citizens Forum. He has been a fierce opponent of border walls along
the U.S.-Mexico border and has visited locations throughout Texas, New Mexico
and Arizona to see the impact they have had.
“My experience is whatever DHS wants, DHS gets. It doesn’t make any
difference what IBWC or Fish & Wildlife or local Border Patrol agents want.
DHS in Washington are going to get what they want,” Wood said.
“They have already decided they do not have to follow any NEPA requirements,
they do not have to follow anything. If that is what they want that is what they
are going to do.”
Nonetheless, Wood said he encourages communities opposed to the border walls
to continue their resistance. “They (DHS) ought to follow their own guidelines
but they don’t.” Wood got a laugh from many in the audience when he said that
talking to DHS in Washington is like “talking to the wall.”