‘Virtual Fence’ Work Is Halted

Brady McCombs, Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), August 19, 2008

Work on “virtual fences” planned for Arizona’s stretch of the U.S.-Mexican border has been brought to a halt.

The Interior Department has not granted the Homeland Security Department permission to use the land for constructing the surveillance towers that form the backbone of the virtual fences, said Barry Morrissey, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C.

Without authorization to use the land, no work could begin, which prompted agency officials to instruct the lead contractor on the project, Boeing Co., to suspend activities until further notice, Morrissey said.

No date has been set to resume work.

The suspension of work has forced at least one subcontractor, EOD Technology Inc., to lay off 40 security guards who already had been hired and trained, EOD spokesman Bill Pearse said. The company, based in Lenoir City, Tenn., with a small office in Tucson, had plans to hire a total of 100 security guards for the project, Pearse said. The guards were protecting Boeing personnel who were constructing equipment for the virtual fence as part of the SBInet project, he said.

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There is no definite date for work to resume, Morrissey said. Boeing told EOD Technology officials that the suspension of work could last until Jan. 1, 2009, Pearse said. He said EOD is “mildly optimistic” that the project will resume.

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Government officials told Boeing officials to suspend activities until further notice but didn’t give them a date on which to start again, said Deborah Bosick, Boeing SBInet coordinator.

In September 2006, Boeing was awarded the prime contract for the Secure Border Initiative. The company led a $20.6 million test project called Project 28 last year along the border flanking Sasabe, and it was delayed because of glitches and was plagued by problems, a Government Accountability Office report found.

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Homeland Security will continue to work with the Interior Department to get permission, but it also will shift some focus to the ongoing construction of fences and vehicle barriers, Morrissey said.

The agency has until the end of the calendar year to construct the remaining 332 miles of primary fencing and vehicle barriers to meet the mandate of 670 miles of primary fencing and vehicle barriers established by the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Through last Wednesday, the agency had completed 338 miles.

The decision to suspend work stems from the Interior Department’s decision not to sign off on Homeland Security’s proposed finding of no significant impact in the environmental assessment for the Tucson West project, Morrissey said.

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