Gringo Pass to Brownsville: Good Neighbor Board urges Obama to take new tack on Border Wall

Greg Harman

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For a while it looked like the Border Wall was going to be a boon for Martha Gay and her Gringo Pass gas station in Lukeville, Arizona. Homeland Security's subcontractor Kiewit was paying out $100,000 per month for Gringo Pass land to host a cement batching plant and store equipment. A water deal at 50-cents a gallon had the company owing Gay another $2 million in short order.

Then the flood came.

In the desert, water rushes fast over the hard earth like a sheet, seeking out low spots, arroyos, canyons, sinkholes. What the rainfall found was the border wall. Gay's attorneys allege that after that water hit the wall it channeled directly into her convenience store, doing an estimated $6 million in damages. All of a sudden the wall wasn't such a hot item at Gay's Gringo Pass.

It may have been a freak flood in Presidio, Texas, that forced Homeland Security to finally reject miles of proposed wall construction there, but folks are still feeling jitters regarding the miles of wall constructed in the Valley across private property and through federally protected wilderness.

Nancy Brown, spokesperson for U.S. Fish and Wildlife at the South Texas Refuge Complex said wall construction has finished through the federally protected lands, but how it will affect rainfall and flooding is unknown. “From the beginning we have asked â??What about hydrology studies?' and to my knowledge that has never been addressed,” Brown said.

Eloisa Tamez brought a class-action lawsuit against Homeland Security through which she hopes to force the government to pay a fair price for her property. But if she harbored any illusions that a change of administration in Washington would help resolve the issue, nearly a year of non-action on immigration and border justice by Obama has disabused her for such notions.

“Obama and `Homeland Security Secretary Janet` Napolitano have done nothing but take the place of the previous administration. It's just a new name with the same policies. We have been totally abandoned,” she said.

Now the Good Neighbor Environmental Board has come up with some ideas for Obama.

In a December 2 letter, the advisory board dedicated to matters pertaining to U.S.-Mexico borderlands environmental justice wrote that while the wall was “mandated” by Congress and had “some positive outcomes” that “the construction has caused negative impacts on natural and cultural resources. For instance, the wall has been blamed for flooding on the Mexican side of the river in cities such as Nogales, Sonoyta, and Palomas. Construction also unearthed Native American burial sites of both the Tohono O'odham and the Kymeyaay, and failed to allow room for migration wildlife.

In a series of recommendations to the President, the group urged that those elements of the REAL ID Act that had allowed former Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff to waive dozens of other federal laws to build the wall be repealed and that future “border security infrastructure” conform to federal environmental laws under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Border Wall activist Scott Nicol of the No Border Wall Coalition said repealing the REAL ID Act section is critical.

“Much of the environmental damage that the Environmental Board wants to address would never have occurred if DHS was required to obey all of nation's laws. It is because DHS failed to act responsibly from the beginning that there is now a need for monitoring and mitigation of the severe damage that they have inflicted upon border communities and refuges,” Nichol wrote in an email to the Current. “Border walls in Texas are in clear violation of the endangered species act, and DHS never released any studies proving that the walls stuffed into the Rio Grande's flood control levees do not put communities at risk. Hopefully President Obama will reverse the Bush-era policies, and implement the Board's recommendations."

Will actually grasping the Nobel Peace Prize on Thursday convert Obama into a border-loving justice hound? We can only hope.

Read the Board's report:


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