Wednesday, July 25, 2012

U.S. Mexico border fence collapses in Los Algodones, Mexico

KSWT News 13
July 25, 2012
by Stephanie Sanchez

Yuma--A construction company was excavating near the U.S. Mexico border fence in Los Algodones, Mexico Thursday night around 8 p.m. About 114 feet of border fence collapsed.

"There are extra agents in this area, air assets are on stand by and will adjust where needed as well," Spencer Tippets, U.S. Border Patrol spokesman of the Yuma sector said. "Extra security will be in place until the fence is repaired."

The excavating equipment belonged to Haro express, a Mexican material transporting company.

An anonymous source close to the project tells us they specifically warned the company to not to dig so close to the border fence but they went ahead anyway.

They were reportedly under a deadline for a construction project on a plaza in downtown Algodones.
Parts of the fence toppled over the tractor and truck but no injuries were reported.

"We don't know exactly what the engineers will come up with as far as the replacement of the fence," Tippets said. "Were not sure if they will continue with the same kind of construction in this area or if use the same type of fencing."

He said they don't know how long it will take to rebuild the border fence and the estimated amount of damage isn't known yet.

The International Boundary and Water Commission and Mexican authorities are reviewing the incident. Customs and Border Protection is considering the most efficient means of repairing the fence. Security has been increased at the scene until repairs are made."

Break in Border Wall Near Los Algodones, Mexico

KSWT News 13
July 25, 2012

Los Algodones, Mexico - A section of the border fence between the US and Los Algodones, Mexico has come down. KSWT News 13 reporter Stephanie Sanchez tells us from scene that crews are working on repairs and the area is secure.

Initial reports indicate about 114 feet of the fence is open. There was a construction crew on the Mexican side of the fence doing some excavating Tuesday night. The portion of the wall collapsed around 8p.m. There is no indication there was any intentional damage to the fence.

U.S., Mexico disagree over border fence plan in Texas

Associated Press / Houston Chronicle
July 24, 2012
by Christopher Sherman

McALLEN — An agency that monitors the U.S.-Mexico boundary is agreeing to a U.S. proposal to build border fence segments in a South Texas flood plain, a move Mexico opposes.

The decision by the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission comes despite objections from its Mexican counterpart. Mexico argues the fence would deflect floodwaters to its side of the Rio Grande and violate a bi-national treaty.

The Associated Press on Tuesday obtained a letter the commission sent to U.S. Customs and Border Protection noting it will not oppose the project. The commission says its analysis found that the fence proposed for three areas in South Texas would not be a significant obstruction to river waters. Half of the 14 miles proposed would be in the flood plain.

"When it comes right down to it, the scientific analysis is what we have to fall back on," John Merino, principal engineer with the U.S. commission, said Tuesday.

In his February letter, Merino wrote that after a thorough review, the agency concluded that the project "will not cause significant deflection or obstruction of the normal or flood flows of the Rio Grande" and is consistent with the treaty.

Jenny Burke, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said that one of the segments, in Los Ebanos, is no longer considered necessary and more funding is needed to build the other two in Rio Grande City and Roma. Merino also pointed out that the government would have to bring back detailed construction drawings of the fence for approval before proceeding.

Still, the green light for a permanent fence made of spaced vertical steel tubes is a significant reversal for an agency that expressed concerns when the government was still proposing a "moveable" fence in 2008.

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."

In July 2008, Al Riera, then the principal operations engineer for the U.S. boundary commission, told a citizens forum, "If they (Department of Homeland Security) 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."

That movable fence was planned to involve a base of concrete barriers topped with about 15 feet of tightly woven steel fencing that could be removed in advance of floodwaters.

Merino said the project had not been analyzed when Riera made those comments. Riera is no longer with the commission.

But a letter from a Mexican engineer to Merino in December 2011 said the project represented a serious obstruction.

"The location, alignment and design of the proposed fence represent a clear obstruction of the Rio Grande hydraulic area, since in the towns of Rio Grande City and Roma, (Texas), the fence would occupy nearly all of the hydraulic area on the U.S. side, causing the deflection of flows towards the Mexican side," wrote principal engineer Luis Antonio Rascon Mendoza.

Jesus Luevano, secretary of the commission's Mexican section, said in an email Tuesday that Mexico's position is that the "wall constitutes an obstruction of the normal current ... in terms of the 1970 Boundary Treaty, therefore we continue fighting its placement with respect to the Rio Grande flood zone."

He added that Mexico recognizes the border fence is a unilateral endeavor, but said it wasn't improving relations between the neighbors.

The U.S. has built about 650 miles of border barriers along the 1,954-mile U.S.-Mexico boundary. In Texas, the fence segments have been built more than a mile away from the river in some rural areas, but the three segments recently reviewed by the commission would be built closer because all three communities abut the river. In 2008, the Department of Homeland Security waived a host of environmental regulations to allow speedy construction.

Merino said the disagreement stems from differing assumptions. He said Mexico looks at the fence as a solid barrier like a dam that would not allow water to pass through. U.S. engineers believe water will pass through it as long as it's kept free of debris.

Jeffrey Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, said he will send a letter to the commission Wednesday demanding an explanation for the agency's new position. He noted that the proposed fencing would cut through a national wildlife refuge.

"We don't know the reason that all of these concerns evaporated," Ruch said Tuesday.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

After test, feds fortify border fence with gates

The Monitor
July 21, 2012
by Dave Hendricks

HIDALGO — The rust-red border fence that snakes through Hidalgo County includes more than a dozen small gaps wide enough for a truck to drive through.

And, sure enough, smugglers have driven right through them — north carrying drugs and illegal immigrants, and south running from the law.

The gaps are beginning to close as the federal government installs imposing metal gates that open only for Border Patrol agents, farmers and other people with legitimate business along the Rio Grande. In the project’s first phase, the government plans to install 44 gates across Hidalgo and Cameron counties.

At first, Border Patrol tested farm and vehicle gates across the Rio Grande Valley. While Border Patrol has been tight-lipped about the test gates, calling the project “operational and law enforcement sensitive,” some details have trickled out.

At least one test gate appears to have been installed just west of International Boulevard near the Hidalgo County Water Improvement District 3 pump station in Hidalgo. The nearby border fence, just yards from International Boulevard, includes two small gaps that briefly had different gates.

“I guess they were trying to find out which one was most reliable, which one worked best,” said district President and General Manager Othal E. Brand Jr. “They did that for four or five months.”

One gate mechanism appeared to be hydraulic. Another used a gear-and-chain system. The test appears to have finished and both gates now appear identical.

Asked about the test at District 3, Border Patrol requested questions in writing. Border Patrol confirmed testing “vehicle and farm gates at selected existing fence gaps in Cameron and Hidalgo counties” but wouldn’t provide locations.

“Specific details regarding the gates design and mechanisms are law enforcement sensitive,” according to information provided by Supervisory Agent Dan Milian, a Border Patrol spokesman.

After installing the first 44 gates, 32 in Cameron County and 12 in Hidalgo County, the government may build up to 34 more, according to Border Patrol. As of Jan. 12, the project had cost “approximately $10 million.”

Farmers and others with business along the Rio Grande use keypads to open the gates. If the power goes out, a backup system powers the gate’s lock but the gate must be opened manually.

“If (the) power outage lasts longer than 12 hours, gates will automatically unlock and will remain unlocked until power is restored,” according to information provided by Border Patrol. The gates are designed so that an adult can manually open an unlocked gate.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Desert Mirage: 1 year later, no progress on state border fence

Arizona Capitol Times
July 19, 2012
by Jeremy Duda

A year after Arizona began a nationally publicized effort to build its own border fence through private contributions, not a single fencepost has gone up. And there are several barriers standing in the way of the project.

Fundraising for the project, spearheaded by Sen. Steve Smith, has almost completely dried up. The $273,000 raised by Build America’s Fence is probably not enough to erect even a mile of fencing.
And a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm Smith said the group hired to raise money has not started collecting funds. The federal nonprofit status the group needs for its nationwide fundraising campaign has been pending for a year.

Furthermore, the committee hasn’t yet obtained the materials it needs to build any fencing. It hasn’t yet identified the land where the fencing will be built. And an inmate labor agreement Smith hopes to reach with the Arizona Department of Corrections is still in its infancy, at best.

Smith, R-Maricopa, said he’d hoped to have something to announce by July 20, the anniversary of the launch of and the effective date of the legislation creating the state- sanctioned effort. But things have taken longer than he’d hoped.

“If it were up to me, it would’ve been done on July 21 of last year,” Smith said. “It is a massive undertaking.”

But while no one expects Smith or the Joint Border Security Advisory Task Force, which oversees the project, to cover every unfenced area of Arizona’s 376-mile border with Mexico, Smith said he hopes to get something up soon. After a year of hammering out the details, Smith said he’s “very close” to starting work on part of the fence, which he hopes will be a one-mile section.

There are still a lot of details to work out before anything can be done. Smith said he’s in talks with two fencing companies after the first firm he dealt with, Betafence, had pledged to contribute materials. A change in management in Betafence put those talks on hold, Smith said.

Smith also acknowledged that the $273,000 that has been contributed to the Border Security Trust Fund may not even be enough for the first mile of fencing he wants to construct.

“My goal is to get the first mile in. Obviously, all this stuff costs more than ($273,000). The money we have ordinarily wouldn’t cover it, but we’re going to make those dollars stretch,” the freshman lawmaker said of his hope to use donated materials and cheap labor to build it.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2007 that a mile of double-steel fencing would cost about $1.5 million. A 2009 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated the cost at $2.8 million per mile.

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said this is exactly what he predicted last year when the border fence effort began. Campbell, a Phoenix Democrat, called the project a “political pyramid scheme.”

“I predicted this when it went through appropriations in 2011, that this would be a bill that would achieve absolutely nothing, would drain money away from people’s personal finances, and would accomplish absolutely zero in terms of addressing anything related to border security,” Campbell said. “This whole thing is an absolute fiasco and it’s been a joke since Day One.”

When the border fence project began in the summer of 2011, it got a lot of national media attention and the checks poured in immediately.

In August, the fund raised $213,000.

But it didn’t take long for the monthly fundraising number to drop from the hundreds of thousands to the thousands to the hundreds. In June of this year, the fund raised just $579. The month before, it raised nothing.

The Joint Border Security Advisory Task Force has its skeptics. Rep. Russ Jones, a Yuma Republican who co-chairs the committee, has long said that building a full fence would be nearly impossible.
But that doesn’t mean nothing will ever be built.

“I don’t think with the money that’s raised that it’s going to be a large area,” Jones said. “It may be more symbolic than anything. But it will be something.”

Even if only a mile or less of fencing goes up, Jones said it still could help U.S. Customs and Border Patrol with interdiction efforts.

And if something is built, Jones said it could help encourage more contributions to the fund.

Committee member Bas Aja, the head of the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association, said even a mile of fence would be welcome to border-area ranchers who live in fear.

“Those people down there are desperate. If they go down there and they can demonstrate that they can do something that will provide them additional security, I think people will accept it,” Aja said.
“They’re not going to get all of (the border) covered, but I think their intent is to try to demonstrate that there is a way to increase security, and they might be able to do that with some examples.”

Money may be hard to come by, but Aja said Smith won’t have any trouble finding ranchers and other landowners along the border who are willing to let the committee build on their land.

Smith said fundraising dries up when there’s no media attention. And media attention has been sparse. But that could change, he said, if he can get that first length of fencing up.

Build America’s Fence has hired a Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm, and Smith said the firm believes building the first mile is the key to raising more money. The firm hasn’t been paid yet, Smith said, and will receive a portion of the funds it raises for the fence. Smith said he could not recall the name of the public relations firm.

“They say as soon as you can get construction going and of course get the first mile … or whatever up, they will then take that and deliver that quite literally across the country. But they’re asking for a solid, mother-of-all press releases,” he said. “They seem to think that once we get something in the ground they can certainly try to raise a whole heck of a lot more.”

Aja has a more grim prediction for what will cause the next spike in fundraising.

“But we will have another American citizen killed on the border, and when that happens they’ll see their fundraising increase again,” Aja said, evoking memories of Rob Krentz, the rancher whose murder by suspected Mexican drug cartels provided much of the momentum in favor of SB1070 in 2010.

Build America’s Fence will need more than actual physical barriers to raise money though. It needs nonprofit certification from the IRS, which has been pending for about a year. Arizona public relations consultant Jason Rose, who has worked with Smith on the border fence issue, said Build America’s Fence can’t conduct a substantial, nationwide direct mail campaign until it gets federal certification.

Smith is trying to negotiate good prices for fencing materials, which he said may be “green technology,” though he wouldn’t elaborate on what he meant. He also would not disclose the names of fencing companies he said he is talking with.

If anything actually goes up, Campbell said he expects it to be nothing more than a mile of chain-link fence.

“They’re using some technical term, but it’s a chain fence. You and I could probably cut it down in five minutes,” he said.

One way Smith had long hoped to save money on the fence was by using inmate labor from the Arizona Department of Corrections. But the company that builds the fence, he said, will decide for itself whether it wants to use inmate labor.

Once Smith has an agreement with a fencing company and landowners, he said he’ll go back to the joint committee for approval. His next chance will likely be August, when Jones said the committee will meet for the first time in months.

There’s nothing unusual about the lengthy amount of time it’s taken to start building, Smith said.
“Things take time. Clearly I wish this could go faster. But again, when you have so many parties involved — you’ve got contractors, you’ve got building supply materials, you’ve got installers, you’ve got principals of companies who live in different states and sometimes different companies. You’ve got a lot of people, engineers and everything else. Things like this just don’t happen overnight,” he said.

Smith said he’ll build fencing as long as there’s money to do so. And he’s hoping the money will roll in once a section gets built.

But even if nothing more than a mile ever goes up, Smith said it will still have been worth it.

“To call that a wasted effort, it’s just silly,” he said.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

IBWC says 'yes' to border walls in Los Ebanos, Roma and Rio Grande City

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 Roma.

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 Mexico.

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 they suffer.”

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.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In final debate, Cruz, Dewhurst trade jabs on conservative credentials, taxes, border

Dallas Morning News
July 17, 2012
By Robert T. Garrett

GOP Senate rivals Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst clashed on state taxes, a border wall and whether U.S. health care produces bang for the buck in their final televised debate Tuesday, a heated affair in which each questioned the other’s credibility and qualifications.

Cruz accused the lieutenant governor of pushing a jobs-threatening business tax that he said Gov. Rick Perry barely averted, even as Dewhurst fired back that he delivered a tax swap in 2006 that cut local school property taxes by one-third.

“I don’t know whether you ever took a course in economics but … we had a net -- net – cut for Texans, for homeowners and for business of some $4 billion to $5 billion” a year, Dewhurst told the Ivy League-trained Cruz.

Cruz retorted, “I graduated from Second Baptist High School in Houston and they did teach arithmetic.”

He noted that overall state revenues have increased by 49 percent since Dewhurst became lieutenant governor in 2003.

“I’ll tell you what a fiscal conservative would do,” Cruz said. “In the state of California when Ronald Reagan was governor and they had tax revenues go up, he refunded the tax money. What the lieutenant governor did is he took that 49 percent in additional tax revenue and he grew state spending by $72 billion.”

The two, seated for an hourlong exchange at Dallas’ WFAA-TV, engaged in close-in combat in their second and final televised encounter since the May 29 primary narrowed the crowded field, forcing a July 31 runoff.

Among the primary losers was former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who made a surprise appearance in the television studio after the debate to endorse Dewhurst.

Leppert said he was eager to put behind him Dewhurst’s last-minute TV spot that blasted the former mayor as a liberal, and the lieutenant governor told reporters he’d apologized privately for that ad.

“The issue is having someone who understands how to right the economy,” Leppert said, taking a veiled shot at Cruz. “We’ve got a lot of people in Washington that give great speeches.”

Cruz, standing in front of placard-waving supporters at Victory Plaza outside the TV studio, offered congratulations to Dewhurst for winning the former mayor’s backing.

But Cruz contrasted his grass-roots support with what he strongly implied was just another establishment endorsement for Dewhurst.

Their runoff contest has drawn national attention for clues it may offer to the Republican Party’s future course, pitting tea party insurgent Cruz against the establishment candidate Dewhurst.

Their contest has largely been driven by attacks on each other’s record and stylistic questions, and although those continued Tuesday night, they also differed more on specifics of issues than in previous faceoffs.

Cruz, a former state solicitor general, offered red meat to his party’s most fervent conservatives, the types whose enthusiasm he’s counting on to carry the day in an unusually late runoff, delayed by battles over Texas’ redistricting.

Cruz said he would be willing to see federal taxpayers absorb a $7 billion hit to pay for building an 1,100-mile-long border wall from Brownsville to El Paso.

“I don’t know the specific cost but I can guarantee you it’s far less than the cost of illegal immigration,” he said.

Dewhurst, though, was noncommittal.

“A fence is absolutely warranted in certain places but I question the benefit … the whole length,” he said.

Dewhurst stressed his support for tripling the size of the Border Patrol.

He denied Cruz’s contention that he would offer work visas to illegal immigrants. Dewhurst said he only would discuss a guest worker program after the border is secure.

On health care, Cruz again faulted the lieutenant governor for quoting “left-leaning organizations” such as the World Health Organization and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that show U.S. health care to be very expensive, especially given high rates of infant mortality and other problems with public health.

Dewhurst said the U.S. and Texas boast many fine hospitals and doctors, but “we can do better.” He cited reports showing that as many as 45 percent of U.S. doctors don’t follow “best practices.”

Each of the two rivals, when thrown on the defensive about his recent failings on government transparency, fudged.

Dewhurst said his office’s decision last summer to request removal of his speeches from his state website was routine and unrelated to his July announcement of his Senate candidacy. He insisted people could obtain his past speeches simply by emailing his office at the Texas Capitol.

“To imply that anything was improper was done, my friend, I’m not the one who was just fined by the Senate Ethics Committee,” he shot back at Cruz.

Dewhurst was referring to a $200 late fee Cruz recently paid for failing to file an updated personal financial disclosure by May 15, as required of Senate candidates.

Cruz noted that Dewhurst’s ads have made the lapse sound ominous. Cruz aides have attributed to the rush of the final weeks of the primary campaign.

However, Cruz erred by implying Dewhurst had done the same thing.

“What he didn’t mention is the form that I was late filing, he was late filing the very same form,” Cruz said.

Actually, Dewhurst, who has a net worth of more than $200 million, obtained extensions last summer and eventually filed his disclosure before it was due.

Dewhurst had the advantage heading into the runoff, having won 45 percent of the primary vote to Cruz’s 34 percent.

However, two recent polls showed Cruz in the lead and experts are confounded over who will actually show up to vote. Texas primary runoffs usually are held in the spring.

Because Texas remains a state loyal to the GOP, the winner of the runoff is expected to win in the November general election. The seat came open after Republican incumbent Kay Bailey Hutchison decided not to run again.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

'Extraordinary' U.S.-Mexico drug tunnel may be Sinaloa cartel's

Los Angeles Times
July 12, 2012
by William C. Rempel

SAN LUIS, Ariz. — The powerful Sinaloa drug cartel is believed to be behind one of the most sophisticated and well-engineered smuggling tunnels ever found along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to U.S. drug enforcement officials who announced the discovery Thursday in Yuma.

The “fully operational” tunnel is a 755-foot passageway, tall enough for a 6-foot person to walk through, that burrows under the border fence, a park and a water canal. It connects a small, nondescript warehouse on the U.S. side to an inoperative ice manufacturing plant behind a strip club in Mexico.

It is outfitted with lights, fans and a ventilation system. The vertical shafts on both sides of the border descend 57 feet, creating what officials said were significant engineering challenges.

“I would suspect that professional engineers were cooperating with the builders, if not working on site,” said Doug Coleman, special agent in charge of the DEA's Phoenix field office. He said construction might have taken at least a year and cost an estimated $1.5 million to $2 million.

It was unclear how much, if any, contraband may have been smuggled through the recently completed tunnel, but authorities said its existence was exposed by the seizure last week of a 39-pound load of methamphetamine. The drugs were found by state police during a traffic stop on the highway between San Luis and Yuma and then traced back to the warehouse.

Two couriers were arrested, one of them a U.S. citizen. A third person also has been arrested in a case that Coleman said was “only beginning.” Coleman declined to answer questions about the continuing investigation.

DEA investigators who searched the warehouse found tons of sandy soil stored in dozens of 55-gallon drums. The stored dirt “suggested there must be a tunnel,” Coleman said at a news conference Thursday.

Access to the tunnel was located under a 2,000-gallon water tank that could be moved only with the use of a forklift. Investigators found the vertical shaft lined with 4-by-6-inch wooden planks. The tunnel itself is lined with plywood and reinforced with the same planks. It is about 6 feet 6 high and 4 feet wide.

On the Mexico side, access was found in the ice house, where investigators also found stacks of 200-pound seed bags apparently filled with additional tons of excavated sand and dirt. Entry to the vertical shaft was underwater. Investigators had to drain a large tank to get to it.

Asked to compare the tunnel to nearly 140 others found along the Mexican border with Arizona and California in the past 10 years, Coleman said he had seen nothing like it. “It's an extraordinary piece of engineering,” he said.

The one-story warehouse, part of a strip mall only a few steps from the San Luis border crossing, had been under surveillance by DEA agents for several months as a suspected stash location. The ice house also had been a suspect site in the past, raided at various times in recent years by Mexican drug agents without anything suspicious turning up.

Coleman said that although the people behind the tunnel had yet to be identified, “it's a good guess” that it will be tied to the Sinaloa cartel and people employed by drug boss Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman.

DEA officials said estimates that the tunnel could have cost as much as $2 million were based on initial analysis of the materials used in construction. They speculated that sophisticated underground sensors and directional devices might have been used to assure that the tunnel from the Mexico side actually met the vertical shaft under the San Luis warehouse.

Also found at the warehouse were two vans formerly operated by the U.S. Postal Service, faded remnants of their identifying decals still visible. Investigators believe the cartel intended to disguise some of its drug shipments as U.S. mail.

Jay Crede of Homeland Security Investigations said the tunnel was of obvious concern to his department, but he celebrated its discovery. He called the loss of the tunnel “a blow to … traffickers.”

Another DEA veteran, Coleman aide Chris Feistl, went further. “As drug cases go, we didn't get a whole lot of dope in this seizure,” he said, “but when you think about how much cartel time and effort and money went into this tunnel — we really ruined somebody's day.”

The 39 pounds of methamphetamine has an estimated wholesale value to the cartel of nearly $700,000. Its street value is about five times higher.,0,612829.story

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mexico discovers drug tunnel under Arizona border

Associated Press / East Valley Tribune
July 8, 2012

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's army has uncovered a 755-foot (230-meter) tunnel running under the Sonora-Arizona border that was used to smuggle drugs into the United States.

Mexico's defense secretariat says the tunnel linked a soon-to-be-opened ice and purified water business in San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora to a business in San Luis, Arizona.
Gen. Raul Guereca said Saturday that the tunnel was 4.25 feet (1.3 meters) high and reached a depth of almost 60 feet (18 meters) below ground. It had electricity, ventilation and small cars to transport the drugs through the tunnel.

Officials did not say which cartel they thought had built the tunnel. As U.S. authorities have tightened land crossings, tunnels have become a popular way for Mexico's cartels to smuggle drugs and people into the U.S.