Trump Administration Preparing Texas Wildlife Refuge for First Border Wall Segment

For at least six months, private contractors and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have been quietly preparing to build the first piece of President Trump’s border wall through the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in South Texas. The federally owned 2,088-acre refuge, often called the “crown jewel of the national wildlife refuge system,” could see construction begin as early as January 2018, according to a federal official who has been involved in the planning but asked to remain anonymous.

“This should be public information,” the official told the Observer. “There shouldn’t be government officials meeting in secret just so they don’t have to deal with the backlash. The public has the right to know about these plans.”

CBP plans to construct an 18-foot levee wall that would stretch for almost three miles through the wildlife refuge, according to the official. The structure would consist of a concrete base, which would serve as a levee, and be topped with a fence made of steel bollards, similar to a levee wall built almost a decade ago near Hidalgo, Texas. A second federal official confirmed these details to the Observer.

On Friday afternoon, several workers were drilling into the existing earthen levee on the wildlife refuge and extracting soil samples to prepare for the construction. A security guard watching over the site asked me to leave when I started asking questions. Engineers from Michael Baker International, a global engineering firm, have been attending meetings on the project, according to the federal official.

The official said that the Department of Homeland Security picked the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge as the first site for a border wall segment because it’s owned by the federal government, avoiding legal entanglements with private landowners. At least 95 percent of the Texas border is privately owned. As the Observer’s June cover story, “Over the Wall,” detailed, at least one-third of the 320 condemnation suits filed against landowners in 2007 are still pending.

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