DHS releases ‘useless’ environmental plan for border wall segments already built, critics say

Border Report Tour

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The federal government has released an “Environmental Stewardship Plan” that acknowledges several species and wildlife will be “adversely affected” by the construction of 11 miles of new border wall in South Texas, but critics point out many of the wall panels are already built.

Dated June 2020 but released just this month, the 106-page report “Environmental Stewardship Plan for the Proposed Border Wall Project U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector, McAllen and Weslaco Stations, Texas,” in several places promises to take precautions and protect wildlife, trees, birds, and water supplies as several non-contiguous border wall segments are built.

However, critics say the preventative “plan” comes months after the wall is already up in several places, and they question what protections were put in place for Mother Nature in those parts ahead of this document.

Scott Nicol, a longtime environmentalist and former chairman of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Campaign, called the Department of Homeland Security report “absurd,” saying “the whole thing is after the fact.”

“They released an environmental stewardship plan nine to 10 months after they started construction. The whole point of those plans is supposed to be to identify potential problems and then find a way to not have those problems occur,” Nicol said Monday, standing near a segment of newly built border wall along busy 23rd Street in McAllen, Texas.

Nicol also wondered what the point of the document is since the Trump administration waived numerous environmental regulation laws — in the name of national security — and the agency says in the report that it is not beholden to environmental laws.

Scott Nicol, former chairman of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands campaign, stands in front of a newly completed section of border wall on 23rd Street in McAllen, Texas.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) no longer has any specific legal obligations under the laws set aside by the waiver,” says the report.

However, “the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and CBP recognize the importance of responsible environmental stewardship. To that end, CBP has prepared this Environmental Stewardship Plan (ESP) to analyze the potential environmental impacts associated with construction of tactical infrastructure in the USBP’s RGV Sector. This ESP also discusses CBP’s plans to mitigate potential environmental impacts, and will serve to guide CBP’s efforts going forward,” the report says.

Nicol says “the plan is completely useless” and wonders what mitigation efforts are in place “because all the environmental laws have been waived. There is nothing — no mechanism — that would stop construction if they discover their action they want to take will cause terrible damage, anyway,” he said.

Border Report has reached out to CBP officials and asked them the purpose of the stewardship plan and how on-site environmental monitors that are mentioned in the report work with construction crews and what they would do if they came upon a delicate situation, such as an endangered species. This story will be updated if information is received.

Above, a completed section of border wall is seen on 23rd Street in McAllen, Texas, on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. Below: The same section is seen under construction on Aug. 7, 2020. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

In the document, DHS acknowledges there will be “long-term permanent impact” on area wetlands, “impacts on soil,” and “loss of small mammals and reptiles during construction could occur” as the 11.45 miles of new border wall construction planned for south Hidalgo County are built.

The document also states that “one archaeological resource and seven above-ground historic resources will be adversely affected by the proposed Project,” but it does not specify where.

The border wall is currently being built behind historic Eli Jackson Cemetery, south of San Juan, Texas, but the cemetery is exempt from border wall construction by Congress.

Construction has been rapidly accelerated in the region as President Donald Trump has promised to have 450 miles of new border wall completed by the end of the Nov. 3 election.

The report acknowledges that “the project will adversely affect the Gulf Coast jaguarundi and ocelot and could affect the northern aplomado falcon, Texas ayenia, and red-crowned parrot.”

DHS promises “a monitor will be on-site during construction to ensure that all BMPs (best management practices) are followed.”

This is the worst case of ‘environmental stewardship’ I’ve ever seen. They trample over every single environmental law and call it stewardship?”

Jim Chapman, friends of the Wildlife Corridor

Jim Chapman, president of the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, a nonprofit support group for South Texas’ Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, said of the document: “This is the worst case of ‘environmental stewardship’ I’ve ever seen. They trample over every single environmental law and call it stewardship?”

Chapman monitors several areas in the Rio Grande Valley where CBP is building the wall, including an area close to the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, which Congress exempted from border-wall construction.

Jim Chapman, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Wildlife Corridor in Hidalgo County, Texas, is seen on May 18, 2020, near Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

He is particularly disturbed by the effect the construction is having on the nesting of rare birds, which attracts hundreds of thousands of eco-tourists to South Texas every winter.

“They greatly underestimate the adverse effects on wildlife,” Chapman said. “As a result of their ‘stewardship,’ what changes have they made in their plan to benefit wildlife? I don’t see any.”

There also are concerns about floodlights and cameras that go along with the 150-foot wide “reinforcement zone” around the 18-foot-tall steel bollard border wall.

High-density lighting could impact the sleeping habits of nocturnal species, like bats, and it could cause others to fly into the lights “and get eaten,” Nicol said.

“Throughout the report they say ‘we will develop best management practices to make it so the impacts are less,'” Nicol said. “They say ‘we will develop these practices’ so therefore the practices are not in place.”

“The big impacts for the levee wall in Hidalgo County is that anything that can’t fly over it, can’t get past it,” Nicol said. “People can, however. They can build ladders and get over. But animals cannot get over.”

“Environmental stewardship used to mean something. Now it’s a smokescreen for destruction. Other than picking up their trash and removing their hazardous waste. Nice of them,” Chapman said.

CBP officials say in the report that the border wall is necessary because “the RGV Sector is the busiest sector in the nation and accounts for more than 40 percent of illegal immigrant apprehensions and more than 43 percent of all marijuana seized in the southwestern border.”

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