DONNA — U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said preparation for wall construction in the Mid-Valley has begun.
During a CBP-led media tour in rural Donna, near Military Highway and the Lacoma Refuge last Friday morning, contractors could be seen working to prepare the preliminary elements for a border barrier.
CBP officials said the contractors began preparation of the enforcement zone last week, which includes preparing the ground and installing elements of technology that will be used for detection.
At the end of September, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials began clearing and grading the project area for new levee border wall system located in the vicinity of the Donna Port of Entry in Hidalgo County, Texas,” according to a statement released by CBP. “This project includes the construction of approximately 13 miles of new levee wall system along the existing U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission earthen levee. The levee wall system will be very similar to levee wall constructed in the RGV area in 2008, but the system will also include all-weather roads, lighting, enforcement cameras, and other related technology.”
The zone that’s being worked on is two projects that span approximately 13 miles between the Donna and Progreso ports of entry.
The area toured Friday was approximately 7 miles. Heavy equipment and contractors located on the south side of the levee were working on the land where the enforcement zone will be located.
The construction of the enforcement zone, which will measure 150 feet from the levee, south toward Mexico, is part of the preparation phase that began last week, CBP officials said.
The funding for the construction was through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, for 25 and 83 miles of wall respectively, CBP officials said.
The announcement of the new phase of construction comes several months after heavy equipment started arriving in the Rio Grande Valley.
In early February, heavy equipment began clearing out land on and near the National Butterfly Center and Bentsen–Rio Grande Valley State Park. Since then, not much in the way of activity has been reported as CBP officials said some land acquisition was still pending.
Litigation, from landowners and other stakeholders around Hidalgo County, including Mission landowners has also caused delays in the start of construction.
The land toured by media Friday is land that already has some wall barrier on the levee from construction in 2008.
Congress approved border wall funding last March as part of a $1.3 trillion omnibus bill that gave $1.6 billion for border walls along the U.S.-Mexico border, 25 miles of which would be for levee wall fencing in Hidalgo County and 8 or so miles of fencing in Starr County.
Last October, USACE awarded SLSCO Ltd a $145 million contract to construct about 6 miles of levee wall system, and a month later it was awarded an additional $167 million for another 8 miles in Alamo, Donna, Weslaco, Progreso and Mercedes.
Construction for actual border barriers in Hidalgo County has yet to begin. During a call with CBP officials at the end of May, they noted that construction was to begin “very shortly,” pending the acquisition of real estate.
CBP officials said the construction in rural Donna is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.