US prepares to start building portion of border wall in Texas wildlife refuge

A section of border fence in Texas. (AP)

HOUSTON — The U.S. government is preparing to begin construction of more border walls and fencing in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, likely on federally owned land set aside as wildlife refuge property.

Heavy construction equipment was expected to arrive starting Monday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said. A photo posted by the nonprofit National Butterfly Center shows an excavator parked next to its property.

Congress last March approved more than $600 million for 33 miles of new barriers in the Rio Grande Valley. While President Donald Trump and top Democrats remain in a standoff over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has pushed ahead with building what’s already funded.

That construction was often described as fencing, and the government funding bill that included construction was supported by some Democrats in the House and Senate. CBP refers to what it plans to build as a “border wall system.”

According to designs it released in September , CBP intends to build 25 miles of concrete walls to the height of the existing flood-control levee in Hidalgo County next to the Rio Grande, the river that forms the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. On top of the concrete walls, CBP will install 18-foot steel posts and clear a 150-foot enforcement zone in front.

Maps released by CBP show construction would cut through the butterfly center, a nearby state park, and a century-old Catholic chapel next to the river.

Many landowners oppose a border wall and have vowed to fight the U.S. government if it tries to seize their property through eminent domain. Court fights over condemning land could take months.

CBP said in its statement that it intends to start construction on federally owned land. Environmental advocates expect the government to use land that’s part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge consists of dozens of parcels of land purchased over the last 40 years to create a corridor for endangered species and other wildlife.

The Department of Homeland Security can waive environmental restrictions to construct a border wall and issued its waiver for Hidalgo County in October . A coalition of environmental groups has sued DHS over its use of waivers. That lawsuit is still pending.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.