Border Fence Design Blasted As Causing Flooding

AP, August 25, 2008

Environmentalists say flooding caused by a new border security fence in southwestern Arizona shows the structure is being built too quickly and without regard for the environment.

Critics say the design of the border fence caused debris and water backup during a July 12 storm that led to flooding at the port of entry at Lukeville and Sonoyta, Mexico, and at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

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Environmental groups have criticized the manner in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and contractors for federal agencies have designed and built a range of fencing and vehicle barriers at various points along the Arizona-Mexico border.

In particular, they’ve denounced Homeland Defense Secretary Michael Chertoff’s waiver of environmental laws to hasten construction as the Bush administration pushes to complete 670 miles of fences and other barriers by year’s end along the nearly 2,000-mile Mexican border.

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Critics have said the design of the pedestrian fencing being put in on the Arizona border is flawed. Much of that fencing consists of 10-foot wide and 15-foot tall steel-mesh panels, some featuring a series of wide horizontal grates at the bottom designed to let water and sediment flow through.

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Federal officials maintain that while Chertoff has invoked his waiver authority three times in Arizona, he has ordered Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol officials to adhere to environmental requirements.

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The Organ Pipe monument’s staff produced a report earlier this month on the pedestrian fence’s effect on the 330,000-acre monument’s drainage systems and infrastructure.

It concluded that the fence failed to meet hydrologic performance standards of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or standards set by the U.S. Border Patrol’s final environmental assessment for the project.

That assessment determined that the 5.2-mile pedestrian fence would have no significant impact on the monument’s environmental features.

But the recent monument report said its own staff had raised concerns last year over the fence-building plans, based on knowledge of local flash flooding.

The July 12 storm dumped as much as 2 inches of rain in about 90 minutes in the area, and water running through washes on the monument backed up as debris piled along the base of the fence.

It created pools up to seven feet deep and flows several hundred feet wide that eroded some areas along patrol roads. The waters even scoured some fence and vehicle barrier foundations.

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