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Levee-border wall under construction in Hidalgo county 10-12-08

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is accepting comments about their extreme border wall plans in South Texas which include

  • Concrete levee-border walls topped with 18-feet-tall steel bollards which will wall off all of Hidalgo County from the Rio Grande.
  • Border walls built in the Rio Grande floodplain in Starr County that will be 20 to 30-feet-tall.
  • A 150-foot wide enforcement zone on the south/river side of all these walls where they will rip out trees and keep all vegetation from growing.

You can read about their destructive plans in the letter they sent to a handful of organizations.

Please cut and paste the following email addresses  and send a comment in order to express your outrage about this drastic action to both CBP and to Texas Senators Cornyn and Cruz:

commentsenv@cbp.dhs.gov, Ana_Garcia@Cornyn.senate.gov, Casandra_Garcia@cruz.senate.gov

Email Subject: RGV Wall and Gates Construction

Comments are due October 20, 2017.


Sample letter you can copy and paste from:

I am opposed to the construction of the Trump administration’s border walls. I am also opposed to the construction of levee-border walls, bollard walls, 150-ft enforcement zones, border wall gates, massive industrial lighting, and all-weather roads.

These border wall structures are symbols of racism and xenophobia, they involve the condemnation of farms and ancestral lands, and they destroy wildlife habitat and refuges. This border wall project would also violate the treaty that establishes the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo as the United States- Mexico border which forbids either nation from building structures in the floodplain that would worsen flooding.

Levee-border walls would cut off thousands of acres of farmland, put the historic La Lomita Chapel in no-man’s-land between the border wall and the border, and would restrict access to trails at the Bentsen Rio Grande State Park and World Birding Center, the National Butterfly Center, and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Bollard walls can act as dams and would worsen flooding conditions in communities on both sides of the river such as Roma and Ciudad Alemán.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) should release more information about its border wall plans immediately. They should also host multiple public meetings in the Rio Grande Valley communities that will be impacted by border walls. Undocumented residents attending these public meetings should be assured that they can participate without fear of arrest and deportation. CBP should also comply with all of our nation’s laws, not waive those that it sees as inconvenient.

The Sierra Club has submitted an extensive comment you can read it here.

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Brownsville resolution

Residents of Brownsville who helped pass an anti-border wall resolution

  1. Have an initial planning meeting. Find like-minded fellow residents who can help you. You can recruit people to a meeting by talking to your friends and neighbors or by putting out an announcement on social media.
  2. Plan a strategy.
  • Identify your targets. Which commissioner or councilperson would be most likely to support the resolution? Who might oppose it? Is there anyone who may be undecided?
  • Identify allies. Who has influence over city officials that might help you? What organizations or individuals could you reach out to and ask for support?
  • Determine what resources each person on your team brings. Do they know a commissioner personally? Are they willing to write a version of the sample resolution adapted to your community? Are they able to help recruit people to attend City or County meetings?
  • Map out a timeline. Consider when the next commission or council meetings will be held. Set goals around those meetings.
  1. Draft a resolution. Adapt your resolution from Sample Draft Anti-Border Wall Resolution. You may want to do a little research to determine some specific statistics about your community.
  2. Find a sponsor member. Identify a potential sponsor of the resolution, and have a meeting to ask them to introduce it. Bring along supporters who have some power in the member’s district, leaders of an influential organization. If you have collected petitions, or a sign-on letter from organizations who support you, bring that as well. Get feedback on the language of your draft resolution.
  3. Meet with other members. When you have a committed sponsor, you will want to meet with other members. Again, you should bring along the member’s constituents and community leaders, as well as petition signatures and letters from organizations who support you. Ask the official for a commitment to support the resolution. If they do not commit, you may want to use additional tactics to pressure them, such calls from constituents or letters to the editor.
  4. Make a show of force at the hearing. In most cases, when a resolution is placed on the agenda, there is a hearing in the council or commission meeting. It is important to get many supporters to the meeting at which the resolution will be considered and to find a way to be visible—sit up front, bring signs or wear t-shirts or stickers, and sign up to talk about the border wall during the public comment period. You might also ask people to call or write their commissioner and the mayor in the days leading up to the hearing. Make sure local press will be at the hearing and arrange for spokespeople to give statements to them that incorporate your group’s main talking points. (See No Border Wall Talking Points and Draft Resolution.)

Questions? Need help organizing an intial planning meeting? Contact lrgvsierraclub@gmail.com

Anti-Border Wall Resolutions Passed by Border Municipalities:

Brownsville, Texas Resolution

Hidalgo County, Texas Resolution

El Paso, Texas Resolution

San Diego, California Resolution (not yet confirmed)

La Lomita No Border Wall Festival procession - courtesy Scott Nicol

2007 La Lomita procession on the US IBWC levee

 

On August 12  religious leaders from different faiths will lead border residents and visitors from across the country in a sunrise procession in opposition to the proposed border wall that would slice through communities here in the Rio Grande Valley. The procession will set out at 7:00 am from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in the border town of Mission, Texas and end at Historic La Lomita Mission, the still-active Catholic shrine that gave the town of Mission its name.  The Mission is located behind the levee on which the Trump administration wants to build the levee-border wall and so would be cut off from the rest of the United States, if the wall is built.

la lomita and levee 2017

La Lomita chapel with the US IBWC levee behind it, where the border wall would be built

 

Those who make the four-mile walk will be greeted with mariachi music.  Starting at 9:00 am on the mission grounds, speakers will address the social and environmental impacts inflicted by border walls, as well as the harms inflicted by the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies.  Afterwards we will enjoy a community picnic on the mission grounds.

The goal of this event is to present to the rest of the nation the reality of life on the border.  Border communities are some of the safest in the United States, and we reject border walls, the targeting of communities of color, and the militarization of our home.

la lomita shrine 2017

Shrine in the La Lomita chapel with prayers

 

Through the procession itself and through music, speeches and poetry, we will reaffirm the culture and history of the Rio Grande Valley and highlight the ways that our communities are connected to the river itself and to our neighbors in Mexico.  We’ll also call attention to the damage that Trump’s planned border walls would do, cutting off people’s homes, stripping farmers of their land, closing our parks, and devastating our ecologically sensitive wildlife refuges. Finally, we’ll remember the plight of migrants and refugees who are funneled by walls into remote areas where they are more likely to die from dehydration and exposure.


If you go:

Dawn Procession
Begins at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church
620 N Dunlap Ave, Mission, TX
Arrive at 7:00 am
Important: bring water and sun protection
***Free ‘No Border Wall’ T-shirts to all marchers while supplies last***

Morning Rally
Begins at 9:00 am
La Lomita Mission and Park
See map
***Free food and drinks, activities for kids***

Sign up and invite friends on Facebook


Event Flyers to Distribute

Save the Mission flyer English

Save the Mission Flyer Spanish


Sponsors List

A Resource in Serving Equality
Accion de Gracia Inmigracion
Action South Texas
Awesome Women in Action
Call to Action
Center for Biological Diversity
Chimney Park Resort
Church World Service
Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces
Daughters of Charity of the U.S.A
Defenders of Wildlife
Earth Guardians-Rio Grande Valley
Earth Justice
Environmental Awareness Club at UTRGV
Friends of Estero Llano Grande State Park
Friends of Friendship Park
Friends of the Wildlife Corridor
Frontera Audubon
Fuerza del Valle Workers Center
Governing Foundation
Harlingen PFLAG
Hidalgo County Democratic Party
Hidalgo County Young Democrats
Hope Border Institute/Instituto Fronterizo Esperanza
Interfaith Welcome Coalition of San Antonio
La Union del Pueblo Entero
McAllen American Federation of Teachers
Mennonite Central Committee
Mi Familia Vota
Migrant Rights Collective of Houston
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National Association of Social Workers
National Butterfly Center
National Council of Jewish Women
North American Butterfly Association
Northern Jaguar Project
Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church
People for Peace and Justice
Proyecto Azteca
Rio Grande Valley Texas Democratic Women
Sierra Club
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Socialist Party USA
Southwest Environmental Center
Southwestern Association of Naturalists
Stonewall Democrats of the Rio Grande Valley
Texas Civil Rights Project
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hidalgo County
United for Reproductive and Gender Equity
United We Dream
West Hidalgo County Tejano Democrats
Wildlands Project

The Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club expresses appreciation for the letter and resolution opposing border walls that Hidalgo County Drainage District #1 unanimously approved at their May 2nd public meeting. We believe that taking a strong stance against all border walls best reflects the views of County residents, and we applaud you for advocating for what is in the best interests of your constituents.

However, we request that the Drainage District correct inaccurate statements that have been made in regards to the status of our river-levee system and the purported role that proposed levee-border walls would play.

We have been in contact with both IBWC and FEMA, and we have been told in no uncertain terms that the river levees have been completely rehabilitated. The work was done by IBWC with $220 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This work was completed last year according to an email we have from Ms. Sally Spener, Foreign Affairs Office with IBWC.

All of the segments of levees along the river where the proposed border wall would go have been submitted for accreditation by IBWC and are tagged “certification submitted” on the Levee Improvement Status maps. In her email of March 3, 2017, Ms. Spener explains,

“Certification Submitted” means that the USIBWC has submitted documentation to FEMA indicating that USIBWC certifies the levee as meeting FEMA criteria. In that sense, the levee rehabilitation part of the accreditation process is complete. FEMA accreditation also depends on local communities addressing local drainage issues on the land side of the levees.” (Emphasis ours.)

So, work on the levees is in fact complete, and they are ready to be accredited. On a call of April 25, 2017, Mr. Larry Voice, project manager with FEMA, echoed this, saying that the levees were rebuilt to “structural certification,” meaning that the levees themselves, in their current state, would be accredited by FEMA. The reason the system is not accredited already has nothing to do with the structural integrity or the height of the levees. Instead, the accreditation is waiting on work that needs to be done on the land side, or north of the levees, NOT to the levees themselves.  Ms. Spener was very clear about what exactly those land side repairs are in her email to us:

“In many communities, during non-flood conditions, local rainfall from the land side of the levee drains into the river via gates in the levee.  However, during flood operations, the gates are closed to prevent the flooded river from flowing out onto the land side of the levees.  There needs to be a plan for how to handle the land side runoff during these conditions, such as by pumping it over the levee.  The drainage infrastructure varies among the communities but this is the general idea of how there needs to be a local drainage plan in order for FEMA to accredit a flood control system.  We can fix the levees but there are still other flood control concerns that need to be addressed by local jurisdictions.”

So, FEMA is not waiting on repairs to IBWC’s levees, they are waiting on work done to the other drainage infrastructure which is the responsibility of various local entities and drainage districts. This work includes pumps and gates and drains which are not related to the structural integrity or height of the levees.

For an example of the drains that run through the levees which, according to IBWC and FEMA, may still need work, see the images here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B95V1oklwdAnZk9PZ1hRS0tMUlU

Therefore, a levee-border wall will do nothing to address our flooding issues or FEMA accreditation. Those remaining issues all revolve around allowing inland water to drain into the river, even when the levee gates must be closed due to river flooding.

However, in his May 2 statement before the Drainage District Board, District Manager Raul Sesin said that because the flood maps were not yet accredited, “we’re still back where we were in 2008.”  This is clearly misleading, as it leaves the listener with the impression that our levees are in the same state of disrepair that necessitated the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act construction.

Referring to the levee-border wall proposal, Mr. Sesin said that “we felt like we could get closer to accreditation by this method.”  Later in his address to the Drainage District Board he says that he has spoken repeatedly with Larry Voice at FEMA.  The Sierra Club has also spoken repeatedly with Mr. Voice in recent weeks, and he told us that the levees do not need to be made taller or otherwise structurally improved beyond work that he would characterize as regular maintenance.  Presumably he told Mr. Sesin the same thing.

Suggesting that FEMA accreditation will be solved by a levee-border wall is inaccurate. IBWC and FEMA have both stated that it is the County that needs to resolve the interior drainage issues—drainage gates and pumps rather than the structural integrity or height of the levees—in order to be accredited.

In the same May 2 speech Mr. Sesin brought up the specter of Hurricane Katrina, noting that the levees that were breached in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina came down because of weaknesses on the landside. “Because the land side wasn’t adequately studied or certified I guess and that’s what eroded away and that’s what caused the levee to fail, so that’s my understanding of FEMA’s position,” he said.

This is also not accurate. Most of the massive flooding of New Orleans was caused by the collapse of two concrete floodwalls (the Industrial Canal and the 17th Street Canal), types of structures which don’t exist in Hidalgo County or the Rio Grande Valley.

Another point in need of correction was contained in the February 21, 2017 levee-border wall proposal letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kelly and members of Congress that was on Mr. Sesin’s letterhead and signed by Judge Garcia. It says,

“The original intent was to complete approximately 50 miles of a river protective levee/wall entire length of Hidalgo County which is the most populous county along the Texas-Mexico border.”

This “original intent” idea is then backed up by Dannebaum and L&G’s proposed levee-border wall map and construction schedule which accompanied the letter, which lists a “phase 1” being the 2008 levee-border walls and a “phase 2” which was never built.

In fact, there never was a phase 2. The Environmental Stewardship Plan issued by Customs and Border Protection in July of 2008 said, “The concrete flood protection structure/concrete fence will not be continuous, but will be constructed in seven distinct sections.” The total length of those seven sections was 20.37 miles.  There was no indication in that document or any other that has been publicly released that more levee-border walls were planned for Hidalgo County.

When Sierra Club members asked Mr. Sesin about this discrepancy at our meeting at the office of Judge Garcia on April 20, he said that what was called the “original intent” in the letter and “phase 2” in the map and construction schedule was not a plan put forward or accepted by the Department of Homeland Security, but instead the aspiration of the contractors, Dannenbaum Engineering and L and G Construction. Nevertheless, the Drainage District presented in their original it as though it was a part of an existing contract with DHS that was waiting to be fulfilled.

Finally, there is completely different story circulating that the levees need to be raised two feet in order to be accredited. On April 24, 2017 Mayor Darling gave a report at the McAllen City Commission meeting saying that FEMA was “requesting” that the levees be built up two-feet higher. He said, “They don’t call it a certification program but it does involve recognition of certain flood preventions that involve insurance premiums.” Based on this information, Mayor Darling said he would not rescind his February letter supporting a levee-border wall.

This claim that the levee needs to be raised two feet was repeated by Judge Garcia at the April 18 Drainage meeting and again at the May 2 meeting.

In our phone call with Mr. Voice of FEMA on April 25, he stated that his office was trying to find out who Mayor Darling spoke to and how he could have been confused into thinking that the levees needed to be built up another two feet. He stated that for certification (and therefore for insurance purposes), what was needed was 3-feet of freeboard in the case of a 100-year-flood event, and that’s what IBWC had built the levees to. He did not know where the 2 feet request idea had come from. He noted that IBWC owned the levees, not FEMA. He said that he understood that the height of the levees was spelled out by treaty with Mexico.  He also said, “We don’t tell people what to do with their levees. That is up to the local communities.”

We got in contact with Mayor Darling by phone on April 26, 2017, and he told us that he had received the information about the 2 feet request not from FEMA, as The Monitor had reported, but from the HCDD #1. He said that Assistant City Manager Michelle Lefwich had made the call, and this is what HCCD #1 told her.

We are calling on Hidalgo County Drainage District #1 to clarify the actual status of the river levees for the public and for local leaders, and to tell County residents exactly what work remains to be done on our flood control system and what that work entails. If accreditation is an urgent issue, County residents deserve to hear the Drainage District’s concrete plans to address it, and all statements should align with the facts as outlined by the IBWC and FEMA.

Sincerely,

 

Stefanie Herweck

Executive Committee Member, Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club

Fullerton mapAn oil company is proposing to frack in North McAllen. The well would be started near Main and Northgate, and drilled horizontally under 10th Street almost to Colonel Rowe. The company has applied for a permit from the City of McAllen, and the City Commission has the power to deny the permit. (McAllen Code of Ordinances, Article IV, Division I, Section 46-172).

The City Commission will be considering the permit at the next meeting on Monday, March 27 at 5:00 pm at City Hall, 1300 W. Houston in McAllen.

The company is Texakoma, and the people who are listed as the tract mineral owners are Aaron Bond, Sylvia Ruth Ausmus Allen, Ann Louise Corso, and Joe Warren Friend, Jr.

well on Main and Fullerton with mineral rights

The company is also proposing to build a road from 10th Street to the drill site.

Fracking is an extremely violent process that is disruptive to residential communities. The wells expose neighbors to unhealthy emissions, which at times can be very concentrated. The fracturing of rock can cause shaking and crack the foundations of homes, and noise pollution is inevitable. Once a well is drilled, the company can frack or flare gas at will. For these reasons, houses near oil and gas wells can lose as much as 25% of their market value.

Blowouts and drilling accidents happen regularly and are a threat to life and property as far as a quarter mile away. And finally, the wells become a permanent part of our community. The concrete used to plug them can and does fail, and plugged wells are not monitored by regulatory agencies.

If you or someone you know may be affected by this well, please contact us at lrgvsierraclub@gmail.com

 

Screenshot (190)

LRGV Sierra Club’s Jim Chapman reading the letter before the Hidalgo County Commission

Valley organizations have presented a letter to Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling asking them to rescind their support for levee-border walls in Hidalgo County. The letter comes as a response to letters that both men sent to federal officials suggesting that, although they were opposed to the border wall, Hidalgo County would welcome a combination levee-border wall. The full text and signators of the letter are below.

If you would like to add your name to a petition against the levee-wall plan, you may do so at http://bit.ly/2niBHOH

Dear Judge Garcia and Mayor Darling:

We the undersigned urge you to reconsider your support for the levee-border wall plan, to withdraw your offer to Congress and the Department of Homeland Security to help build them, and to actively and vocally oppose all border walls, including border walls built into levees.

As you have acknowledged numerous times, border walls do not make our communities here in Hidalgo County more secure. The crime rates in Texas border cities are already among the lowest in the nation. Most of the people who cross the border without documents are immigrants and refugees who do not pose a threat to us. Furthermore, walls do not stop people from crossing. The Government Accountability Office recently reported that Customs and Border Protection has never shown that border walls have any impact on rates of smuggling and immigration. But they can push migrants into crossing at more dangerous points along the border where too many suffer tragic deaths from dehydration and exposure.

We have been advised by International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) that all of the flood-control levees along the Rio Grande in Hidalgo County have already been repaired and certified.  They have been or will soon be submitted for certification by IBWC. We do not need the levee-walls that you are proposing in order to keep us safe from floods. The County does have real drainage challenges, including many colonias with localized flooding, but those will not be addressed by building extraordinarily expensive border walls into the river levees.

The map created by Dannenbaum Engineering does not take in account the homes, farms, and nature parks which would be impacted by the levee-wall. It simply draws a levee-wall along every section of the river levee where there is not already a wall. Therefore, you are proposing a plan without determining how Hidalgo County residents’ access to their homes and lands would be affected and how this would impact their property values.

The proposed levee wall also slices through the most visited nature parks in the County: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park. Santa Ana is an ecotourism hotspot and the heart of the wildlife refuge system in the Rio Grande Valley, and Bentsen provides outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and tourists alike. Both parks are major hubs in our $460 million per year nature tourism industry. We already lost some of our parkland to the levee-wall when the Hidalgo Pumphouse hike and bike trail was walled off. Proposing a plan that could cut off these special places is irresponsible.

Levee-walls are especially devastating for wildlife and will strike a blow to the Lower Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Corridor that we have been working for almost 40 years to piece together. Terrestrial animals can move freely up and over levees, but an eighteen-foot solid concrete wall is an insurmountable obstacle. It will block them from access to habitat, water sources and mates. For this reason the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said that levee-walls are not compatible with our wildlife refuge lands.

Our organizations and the Hidalgo County residents we represent are very concerned about what the Trump Administration’s border and immigration policies could mean for our home. We do not want border walls. We do not want to see our communities and nature parks cut off and militarized.

Please respect the concerns of your constituents.  Rescind your letters and resist, not promote, Trump’s border walls.

Sincerely,

Jim Chapman

Executive Committee Member

Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club

Juanita Valdez-Cox

Executive Director

La Union del Pueblo Entero

Josué Ramirez

Lower Rio Grande Valley Co-director

Texas Low Income Housing Service

Karen Boward

President

Frontera Audubon

Sharon Slagle

President

Friends of the Wildlife Corridor

Lourdes Flores

President

A Resource in Serving Equality (ARISE)

Gerald Brazier

Chapter Leader

Call to Action-Rio Grande Valley

Martha Garcia

Secretary

Environmental Awareness Club at UTRGV

billOver 70 people attended the Save RGV from LNG kickoff campaign on Monday, April 11 to learn more about the  liquefied natural gas export terminals proposed for the Port of Brownsville and the negative impacts they could bring to the Rio Grande Valley.

            Sierra Club member Stefanie Herweck presented a dispatch from Lusby, Maryland where people are fighting the Dominion Cove Point LNG export terminal (currently being litigated by Sierra Club).  Stefanie visited the community last month and was able to interview many residents and activists, as well as see the terminal under construction. The Cove Point terminal is being built in a densely populated area, across the street from residential homes, even though the industry standard has required that LNG export terminals be built at least three miles from populated areas.  Despite the dangers of long term pollution from the gas-fired generators and catastrophic vapor cloud explosions, the agency in charge of permitting LNG export terminals, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), went ahead and approved Cove Point LNG and put thousands of people at serious risk.
           Stefanie made the point that if FERC would rubberstamp such an egregious project, they would certainly ignore the health and safety issues posed by the Port of Brownsville projects.  Those proposed export terminals don’t meet the long-time industry standard for remote siting either.  Texas LNG plans to build its terminal within two miles of Port Isabel and within three miles of Laguna Vista, putting those towns in the evacuation zone.  A three-mile evacuation zone would also close Highway 100, which is the only route off of South Padre Island.
          Stefanie said that the health and safety risks of the LNG industrial complex would be unacceptable and urged the audience to fight them.
           Afterward, Sierran Bill Berg presented a timeline of the Save RGV from LNG campaign with some great photos of many of our events and victories so far, and LRGV Sierra Club president Jim Chapman went over the regulatory process and discussed the effort to recruit people who could file motions to intervene with FERC.  Filing a motion to intervene makes you an official stakeholder.  People who may suffer materially from the LNG export terminals and pipeline may file for intervenor status.  We encourage people who are concerned about how LNG will impact their businesses or property values to file online with FERC as intervenors.  (For more information contact rebekah.hinojosa@sierraclub.org)
            Finally, our new organizer Rebekah divided people into groups for a brainstorm about how we can participate in the Earth Day festivities in Brownsville.  The consensus that developed was to have a No LNG March.  Stay tuned for an invitation for Saturday, April 23!
            The campaign kickoff was a great momentum-building experience for everyone involved, and it will be exciting to see what the next stage in the Save RGV from LNG campaign will bring.