Archive for the ‘Rio Grande’ Category

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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Annova LNG is proposing to build a liquefied natural gas export terminal in the Port of Brownsville.  They are hosting an “Open House” about the project tonight from 4 to 7 pm at the Brownsville Events Center.  Here are some images from the site and some important facts to know.

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The Worst Possible Place for Heavy Industry

The land Annova LNG has leased encompasses 650 acres of the Loma Ecological Preserve.  Lomas on the preserve have been called “miniature Galapagos Islands”[1] and are such critical wildlife habitat that until recently Annova’s LNG terminal site was leased by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife as a part of the wildlife corridor. In 1998 an ocelot was documented in this area as it crossed the ship channel traveling north. The ship channel presents no obstacle to the endangered cats, but the bright lights and noise of the LNG plant will prevent them from moving back and forth between the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

The Annova site contains numerous wetlands that will be filled in, as well as starkly beautiful coastal prairie and dense brush that will be bulldozed and paved over.  It’s also directly across from the Bahia Grande, the largest wetlands restoration project in North America. Annova plans to dredge a turning basin and widen the ship channel in front of the Bahia Grande Restoration Channel. Dredging increases turbidity and can stir up toxic sediments.

Already On Track to Be the Largest Polluter in Cameron County

Annova LNG has not reported their expected air pollution emissions, but we know that all liquefied natural gas export terminals are major sources of hazardous air pollutants.  We can roughly estimate the level of Annova LNG’s pollution by comparing its planned production capacity with that of other LNG export terminals currently under construction in the U.S. [2]

The emissions associated with Annova LNG’s .93 billion cubic feet per day production of LNG:

Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) 1209 tons per year  67 times what the Silas Ray Power Plant produces
Carbon Monoxide (CO) 1860 tons per year  People with heart disease are especially susceptible.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) 60 tons per year  Carcinogens and neurotoxins: There is no safe level of VOCs.
Greenhouse Gases (GHG) 1.7 million tons per year  35 times the carbon footprint of the Silas Ray power plant
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) 4 tons per year  Causes acid rain which could harm nearby marine environments
Particulate Matter (PM 10 and PM 2.5) 78 tons per year  Cameron County already has high levels of particulates

A Record of Pollution

Annova LNG is owned by Exelon, the same company which owns the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant. In 2006, it was revealed that Exelon had failed to report multiple instances of radioactive tritium leaking into the groundwater during a decade of operating the Braidwood Nuclear Generating Station in Illinois.[3] In 2010 they paid more than $1 million to settle lawsuits arising from over two dozen leaks of tritium at three Illinois nuclear power plants.[4]

LNG Threatens Our Existing Jobs

The massive industrialization and pollution that LNG will bring could erode important economic drivers such as commercial fishing, shrimping, and beach and nature tourism. Thousands of jobs here in the Rio Grande Valley depend on clean air, clean water and high quality fish and wildlife habitat.  The lights and fiery flare stack will light up the sky within sight of South Padre Island’s beachfront hotels and condos, and the smog-producing emissions will foul the air.  Those are not the sights and smells that draw tourists.

LNG Processing and Transport Is Inherently Risky

When LNG is spilled it evaporates and can form a flammable vapor cloud that can drift for some distance. If the cloud encounters an ignition source it will burn back to the LNG spill.  LNG fires burn so hot that first responders cannot approach.  A March 2014 explosion at an LNG plant in Washington State forced an evacuation of hundreds of people within a two-mile radius. Fortunately the fire burned itself out and the LNG did not ignite, but a local fire chief noted that if it had, everyone within three-quarters of a mile would have been killed.[5] The LNG refrigeration process also uses fuels such as propane and ethylene to cool the gas, and these are much more volatile than methane.

Annova LNG Will Not Pay Their Fair Share of Taxes

Annova LNG’s parent company has opposed the Federal Wind Production Tax Credit, saying that, “Exelon has long believed that there is no need to promote subsidies for proven technologies,”[6] but that has not stop Annova LNG from seeking to avoid paying local taxes.  The Cameron County Commission is considering a significant tax abatement, ensuring that all of Annova LNG’s profits will go to distant shareholders instead of local schools, fire departments and roads.

Download a PDF of this factsheet:

Annova LNG–Pave Paradise and Put up an LNG Plan

Send a comment to FERC:

FERC Comment Guide for Annova LNG

FERC Comment Form Annova LNG

[1] Richard C. Bartlett. Saving the Best of Texas. University of Texas Press, 1995.

[2] Based on published emissions estimates for Sabine Pass LNG: Sabine Pass Liquefaction LLC et al., FERC DKT. PF13-8, Draft Resource Report 9 at 11-12, Table 9.2-10. http://www.cheniere.com/CQP_documents/SPLQ%2011-15- 10_FERC%20draft_resource_reports_2%20_thru_9.pdf

[3] “ Madigan, Glasgow File Suit For Radioactive Leaks At Braidwood Nuclear Plant” Illinois Attorney General’s Office, 16 Mar 2006. http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/pressroom/2006_03/20060316.html

[4] “Attorney General Madigan / State’s Attorneys Reach Agreement with Exelon on Nuclear Power Safety.” Illinois Attorney General’s Office, March 11, 2010.  http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/pressroom/2010_03/20100311.html

[5] Kristi Pihl, “Evacuation Area Near Plant to Be Reduced.” Tri-City Herald. 31 March 2014. http://www.tricityherald.com/2014/03/31/2904040/natural-gas-facility-on-fire-near.html

[6] “Exelon’s Public Policy Positions.”  http://www.exeloncorp.com/performance/policypositions/overview.aspx

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Mangroves at Boca Chica Beach, just yards away from the proposed lauch siteLast month the Sierra Club submitted comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement that Space X prepared for their proposed rocket launch site at Boca Chica.  You can read the full comments here: Sierra Club – SpaceX Draft EIS comments 2013_Final

The proposed launch site is on private land surrounded by the 10,680- acre Boca Chica tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The LRGVNWR was envisioned as a wildlife corridor for the ocelot and jaguarundi, which are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Boca Chica beach, adjacent to the launch site, is one of the few places where Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles, one of the world’s most critically endangered sea turtles, come ashore to nest in the spring and summer. This area also provides habitat for birds, including the piping plover and red knot, and is visited by millions of migrating birds and bats each fall and spring.

At this time the Sierra Club is not taking a position for or against this project, as we wait for the greater level of detail that will be in the final EIS regarding both the scope of the project and mitigation measures.  In our comments we suggested a number of mitigation measures that would lessen the project’s environmental impact, including the purchase of land that would be transferred to US Fish and Wildlife.

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Scott Nicol, Sierra Club Borderlands Team chair and LRGV Sierra Club Conservation co-chair, will be speaking at the University of Texas Pan American on April 25 about the flood risks and environmental damage that will come with new border walls slated for the Rio Grande floodplain.  Through Freedom of Infomation Act requests Scott has uncovered documents showing that Customs and Border Protection plans to condemn private lands and take parts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge to build these walls.  For years the US section of the International Boundary and Water Commission rejected these walls as posing too great a flood hazard to communities on both sides of the river, but a year ago they caved in to pressure from CBP and approved walls in the floodplain.

At 6pm on April 25 the Sierra Club will screen the 20 minute film Wild vs. Wall, followed by a discussion of the hazards posed by these new walls.  The event will occur at the UT Pan American Health Auditorium (HSHW 1.404), and is free and open to the public.  You can see a campus map here.

UT Pan American event  poster copy

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By Scott Nicol

Border wall through the LRGV National Wildlife Refuge

Border wall through the LRGV National Wildlife Refuge

I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform bill that’s an American solution to an American problem.”

Unfortunately, when Senator Lindsey Graham uttered those words a few days after the presidential election he was talking about the metaphorical wall between the Republican Party and Hispanic voters, not the physical walls that tear through the U.S. – Mexico borderlands.

Last summer the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1505, waiving environmental laws in National Parks, Monuments, Forests, and Wilderness Areas within 100 miles of both borders for walls or anything else the Border Patrol could dream up.  In the run up to the election Republicans from Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket down to candidates for state offices called for making immigrants’ lives so miserable through measures like Arizona’s SB 1070 that they would “self-deport.”


Following the election, in which an overwhelming majority of Hispanic voters rejected Mitt Romney and Republican candidates, these same politicians feel a sudden sense of urgency to pass an immigration reform bill.

That bill will probably look a lot like the proposal that Senators Graham and Schumer were working on a couple of years ago, linking temporary work visas and a pathway to citizenship to increased border militarization.  That may sound familiar because it is the same formula that was used in 2006, when the US House and Senate passed competing immigration bills.  When the two bills could not be reconciled Congress pulled out the border security section and passed it as the Secure Fence Act.

Since then 649 miles of border wall have gone up, slicing through sensitive habitat from California’s Otay Mountain Wilderness Area to Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

As border walls went up in urban areas like San Diego and El Paso, crossers were “funneled” into the remote and fragile ecosystems of the Arizona desert.  Thousands have died there.

In south Texas border walls now roughly parallel the Rio Grande, ranging from a few hundred yards away to as much as two miles north of its banks.  These walls repeatedly bisect Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife refuge tracts and cut off the last vestiges of sabal palm forest protected by Audubon and the Nature Conservancy.  By blocking movement along the wildlife corridor, border walls may prove to be the final nail in the coffin for the ocelot in the United States.

Just this year the US section of the International Boundary and Water Commission caved in to pressure from Customs and Border Protection and unilaterally approved new walls in the Rio Grande floodplain, despite objections from Mexico.  If they are built these walls could have serious flood impacts on the communities of Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos in the United States, as well as their sister cities on the southern bank of the river.  They will also carve up more fragile refuge habitat.

This is why the Lone Star chapter continues to support the Sierra Club’s national Borderlands Team’s efforts to head off new damage, ensure that environmental laws are obeyed, and get mitigation for the harm that has already occurred.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform could either be a blessing or a curse for the borderlands.  Allowing immigrants to enter through the “front door,” paying the federal government  instead of a coyote and passing through a port of entry instead of climbing the wall and trekking through the desert, would reduce both the impacts of traffic on fragile ecosystems and the number of immigrants who die attempting to cross.  But if it repeats the old formula, adding more border walls and boots on the ground, it will exacerbate the damage to our borderlands.

We need a clean immigration bill, without more of the walls or waivers that do tremendous damage to border ecosystems year after year.


To learn more about the environmental impacts of border walls and the work of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team visit www.sierraclub.org/borderlands



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By Scott Nicol

The U.S. half of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) has finally caved under pressure from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and approved border walls in the Rio Grande floodplain adjacent to Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos.

These three border wall sections, totaling 14 miles, were not built when other parts of the Rio Grande Valley were walled off because of the serious danger they pose to communities on both sides of the river.  On the U.S. side they could block the exit of flood water into the Rio Grande, bottling it up in towns and farm land and exacerbating the damage that they suffer.

They could also deflect flood waters towards Mexico, worsening flooding in Mexican communities.  Deflection might even cause the river to settle into a new channel farther to the south, which would effectively change the location of the border.

In an attempt to lessen the amount of water that these walls will deflect into Mexican cities CBP designed them to channel flood waters north into the U.S. cities that they abut.  The walls will begin close to the Rio Grande, where during a flood water would be split off from the main channel.  As the river bends the mostly straight walls get farther from them, meaning that floodwater, along with all of the debris and garbage it carries, will be channeled into properties in the United States that might otherwise be spared from flooding.

To make certain that water is channeled into the U.S. holes were planned for the middle of two of these wall sections – a 100 foot wide gap in the Roma wall, and a 275 foot wide gap in the Rio Grande City wall – explicitly intended to direct more water into these communities during a flood.

All three of the new border wall sections would also slice through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  Established to create a wildlife corridor along the Rio Grande, the refuge provides habitat for critically endangered ocelot and jaguarundi.  Walls that have already been erected downriver repeatedly bisect and fragment the refuge, putting the future of the terrestrial species that it harbors in doubt.  The new walls would further fragment the refuge and cut off animals from the only reliable source of water in what US Fish and Wildlife has described as “some of the best habitat(s) in the U.S. along the final portion of the Rio Grande.

In a February 15, 2012 letter John Merino, Principal Engineer for the US section of the International Boundary and Water Commission gave CBP the green light to build these walls, saying, “the USIBWC has no objection to the erection of the fence segments within the limits of the Rio Grande floodplain.”  Merino dismissed the possibility that walls would deflect or obstruct flood waters, and stated flatly that USIBWC did not examine potential environmental impacts.  He failed to mention the fact that for the previous five years both the U.S. and Mexican halves of the bi-national International Boundary and Water Commission had rejected the idea of placing border walls in the floodplain.

Throughout 2007 and 2008 CBP tried without success to come up with a wall design for these last three sections that would not impact flooding, and that the IBWC would therefore approve.  Unable to convince the IBWC that walls in the floodplain would not act like dams, a DHS briefing from October 2, 2008, said of these three, “DHS likely to drop fence segments.

It would have made sense for Customs and Border Protection to decide that the Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos walls were not worth risking lives and property to build.  Or, if bureaucracy outweighed humanity in their thinking, they might have called off wall construction in order to comply with the international treaty.

They also could have based a decision to spare them on a June 2008 internal Customs and Border Protection document that stated that “The Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief has determined that operational areas that contain the PF225 fence segments such as O-1 to O-2, O-12 through O-14, and O-17 through O-21 to be in “effectively controlled” level at the current time.”  Segments O-1 and O-2 are the Roma and Rio Grande City walls.

Segments O-12 through O-14 are in Cameron County, near Los Indios.  Segments O-17 through O-21 encompass all of the wall sections in the vicinity of Brownsville, from the neighborhoods near the River Bend Golf Course west of town past the Sabal Palms Audubon Sanctuary and Nature Conservancy’s Southmost Preserve to the east.  Those who live in these areas and had their property condemned for border walls lost their land for nothing, because the local Border Patrol had determined that the area already under effective control before any walls were built.

The year after the assessment that these areas were “effectively controlled,” and before any walls were built, Border Patrol apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley dropped by 20%.  They have continued to decline every year since.

Of course decisions about who will get walls and who will be spared are made in Washington DC, not the Rio Grande Valley.

That simple fact helps to explain why Customs and Border Protection continued to press for these walls, shifting tactics from trying to convince Mexico that walls would not worsen flooding south of the border to pushing the US section of IBWC to allow for “unilateral” action – building walls in the face of Mexican objections, and thereby violating the international treaty.

After hurricane Alex roared into the Rio Grande Valley in 2010, followed by a tropical depression, the flooding Rio Grande forced the mandatory evacuation of Los Ebanos and parts of Rio Grande City.  With homes underwater and the evacuation order still in place, CBP hosted a meeting for the USIBWC and the State Department in Washington DC.

At the DC meeting Customs and Border Protection did not mention the ongoing floods that were inundating the sites of the proposed walls, or the Border Patrol sector chief’s assessment that the area was “effectively controlled.”  Instead, CBP said that the three remaining walls were “critical to our Nation’s security,” and since Mexico continued to insist that they posed a flood hazard “we need [US]IBWC and Department of State’s support for an unilateral decision to proceed with the fence construction.”

Throughout 2010 USIBWC consistently rejected unilateral action, pointing out the likelihood of “substantial increases in water surface elevations and deflections of flow at several points of all three projects.”

But in late 2011 USIBWC reversed itself.  John Merino, the US section’s Principal Engineer, wrote to his Mexican counterpart to say that US IBWC had “concluded that the project will not cause significant deflection or obstruction of the normal or flood flows of the Rio Grande.

The Mexican section of the IBWC responded in December of 2011, saying,

“…the location, alignment and design of the proposed fence represent a clear obstruction of the Rio Grande hydraulic area, since in the towns of Rio Grande City and Roma, TX, the fence would occupy nearly all of the hydraulic area on the U.S. side, causing the deflection of flows towards the Mexican side. If you consider that, given the design characteristics, the fence obstructs 60-70% of the hydraulic area in a direction perpendicular to the flow, and if you add to that the effect of the current retaining trash and debris, the significant length that is located in the floodplain, and the position of the fence relative to the direction of flow, the fence constitutes a serious obstruction and deflection of the Rio Grande flows towards Mexico. […] We reiterate our opposition to the construction of the proposed fence in the Rio Grande floodplain given the impacts stated above.”

Because the IBWC is a bi-national body, the rejection of one party should have brought this project to a halt.  Instead the US half of the IBWC approved the walls, allowing Customs and Border Protection to undertake the unilateral action that it had been pushing for.  This is a clear violation of the treaty that created both the IBWC and the border that Customs and Border Protection is supposed to protect.

But a treaty is just paper.  The real harm will come after the walls go up, when the next big storm roars into the Rio Grande Valley and the river floods.

This is why the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team and the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club group are calling upon Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to overrule her subordinates at the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission and reject these border walls.  Sierrans and anyone else who cares about the Rio Grande and its inhabitants and habitats can send her a letter by going HERE.

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