Texas border wall map looks a lot like private firm’s proposal


Highlights

Border Patrol officials told stakeholders that levee wall plan is based on now-rescinded letter from county.

Hidalgo County officials sent proposal based on designs from Dannenbaum Engineering.

After public outrage, county sent second letter clarifying first letter wasn’t an “invitation.”

The recently revealed map of Trump administration plans for new border wall segments in Hidalgo County is almost identical to a proposal drafted by a politically connected private engineering firm and endorsed by Hidalgo County officials in February.

In a letter to the Homeland Security Department, Hidalgo County officials proposed a partnership to build 30 miles of combined levee walls and border fences, essentially filling in the gaps in the existing border fencing in the county. The proposed $379 million plan was developed by Dannenbaum Engineering, a firm that built the previous round of levee border walls in the county. Dannenbaum’s offices were raided in April by the FBI, which is reportedly investigating the firm’s pursuit of government infrastructure projects.

SPECIAL REPORT: Life in the shadow of the wall

After an avalanche of criticism from residents and activists, Hidalgo officials sent a follow-up letter in May, emphasizing their opposition to the border wall and, County Judge Ramon Garcia said, clarifying that their initial letter wasn’t an “invitation.”

But it appears that federal officials took it as one.

At a recent meeting with local officials and stakeholders, Border Patrol officials described their plans for 28 miles of levee border walls in the county as reflecting local wishes, according to two people who attended. “It was presented as the locally supported option for the border wall,” said Scott Nicol, co-chair of the Sierra Club Borderlands initiative. “Now we are stuck.”

Customs and Border Protection officials didn’t respond to requests for comment on whether their Hidalgo County plan was shaped by the letter.

But Nicol said that in the meeting, Border Patrol officials clarified that local support was indeed a reference to the February proposal, in which Garcia said that new construction would lead to $500 million of economic impact and more than 5,000 new jobs. “Needless to say, this would be a tremendous economic stimulus and jobs program for Hidalgo County and the Nation,” Garcia wrote.

Garcia has told the Statesman that the February letter was written when it appeared that a border wall in the county was inevitable.

“It looked like there was no way of stopping it,” he said. “If they were really insisting, then we ought to do it in a way that can benefit by helping our comprehensive drainage system.”

But residents pointed out that the flood levees that would be rebuilt into border wall had already recently been repaired with federal stimulus money.

Dannenbaum has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to political candidates around the state, including about $25,000 to Hidalgo County officials since 2009. After the April FBI raids of the firm, Hidalgo County commissioners voted to end negotiations with the firm to build a new courthouse.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Police: Aggravated robbery reported at Texas State, suspect on loose
Police: Aggravated robbery reported at Texas State, suspect on loose

Texas State University police are asking for the public’s help locating a man responsible for an aggravated robbery on campus Friday. Police said they received a report Sunday afternoon of the robbery that happened Friday at 9:30 p.m. in the breezeway of Building 7 at Bobcat Village. They described the robber as a man, approximately 6’2&rdquo...
JUST IN: Train strikes vehicle at crossing in Williamson County Sunday
JUST IN: Train strikes vehicle at crossing in Williamson County Sunday

9 p.m. update: A holiday sightseeing train was stalled Sunday when the locomotive carrying dozens of passengers, mostly kids, struck a vehicle that was attempting to cross the tracks in Leander, according to a passenger on board. Jeffrey Gipson, his wife and 4-year-old son boarded the “North Pole Flyer,” which is operated by the Austin...
Sheriff: Williamson County man dies while repairing vehicle Sunday
Sheriff: Williamson County man dies while repairing vehicle Sunday

A Florence man died Sunday while repairing his vehicle after a lift jack failed and caused fatal injuries, the Williamson County sheriff’s office said. Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody tweeted about the man’s death Sunday night and said the sheriff’s office was investigating. Authorities expect to release more information Monday...
Third Cookies for Caring at the Driskill festive way to help families
Third Cookies for Caring at the Driskill festive way to help families

Jo-Ann Escamilla’s mom, Margarita Matias, is one of the people featured in this year’s Statesman Season for Caring campaign, but on Sunday, she was one of the cookie tin-carrying guests at the Driskill Hotel. For the third year, the Driskill held Cookies for Caring, a fundraiser for the Statesman’s annual giving campaign, and Escamilla...
Austin Energy helps restore power in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria
Austin Energy helps restore power in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

Nearly three months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island is still working to restore its power grid. Now, they will have some help from Austin Energy crews, who traveled 2,000 miles last week to lend a hand. Three people from Austin Energy arrived in San Juan on Saturday to assist with power restoration on the island. They are part...
More Stories