Army Corps Urged to Block Private Border Wall Project

A bend in the Rio Grande is seen from a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter over Mission, Texas, in July 2014. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, Pool, File)

(CN) – The director of a 100-acre butterfly refuge on the Rio Grande asked the Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday to shut down a conservative group’s border wall construction project on private land in South Texas, a day after a state judge ordered the project be immediately stopped.

We Build the Wall Inc. is a Florida nonprofit that claims to have raised $25 million from 500,000 donors with the goal of building 35 miles of border wall in support of President Donald Trump’s plan to build barriers across most of the southwest border. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former adviser and the co-founder of Breitbart News, is chairman of its advisory board.

The company reportedly ignored the International Boundary Water Commission’s demand last month to stop clearing vegetation with excavators along the river in preparation for building a 3.5-mile stretch of wall and adjacent paved road until it submitted more detailed technical reports about how the project could obstruct the river. The commission was created to manage the river under a 1970 U.S.-Mexico treaty.

The National Butterfly Center, whose refuge borders the construction site property, sued We Build the Wall and its founder, Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage, on Tuesday in Hidalgo County District Court and won a temporary restraining order with Judge Keno Vasquez ordering the nonprofit to immediately stop the project.

“Kolfage began to speak about the problem of immigration several years back and requested people donate money to him to help President Trump fund the building of a border wall,” the lawsuit states.

It continues: “Kolfage raised a significant amount of money from private citizens who believed his rhetoric about the dangers of the impending invasion of brown skinned people across the southern border.”

The butterfly center claims when the Rio Grande floods the wall will act as a dam and redirect the water and damage vegetation in its refuge, which it says is home to more than 100 butterfly species and frequently visited by students on field trips and bird watchers.

Environmental groups also warn that if We Build the Wall finishes the project it will endanger residents and businesses because the first strong flood will rip it out of the sandy riverbank and send the steel and concrete structure hurtling downstream.

To ensure We Build the Wall cannot press ahead with the project should the restraining order be lifted, the butterfly refuge on Wednesday asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to step in, claiming  the pro-Trump group is violating the Clean Water Act because it is dumping soil into the Rio Grande without the required permits from the Corps of Engineers.

“We respectfully request that the Corps immediately investigate these apparent violations of federal law and ensure that all illegal construction activity cease,” Earthjustice attorney Marisa Ordonia wrote for the National Butterfly Center.

The Corps of Engineers did not immediately respond Wednesday when asked for a response to the letter.

A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 17 before Judge Vasquez to decide if the TRO should be extended with a temporary injunction.

Kolfage said on Wednesday his organization won’t begin construction until it gets the water commission’s approval, the Associated Press reported. But he said he’s confident the wall will go up because “obviously, what we’re doing is legal.”

The National Butterfly Center is represented by Javier Peña with Peña Vela in Edinburg, Texas. Peña did not respond Wednesday to a message seeking info about the project.

This isn’t We Build the Wall’s first project. It built nearly 1 mile of border wall on private land in Sunland Park, N.M., 10 miles west of El Paso, earlier this year despite opposition from Sunland Park’s mayor.

Gloria Chavez, commander of the Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, which includes all of New Mexico, said the wall has helped the agency crack down on border crossers.

She said the wall was built with the same design used by the federal government.

“It gives us the road … It gives it gives us the bollard style type wall, it gives us lighting and it gives us the technology that we need to detect any kind of entry coming into that area,” Chavez said at a news conference last month.

She said the Border Patrol was dealing with a lot Brazilian nationals entering in that area.

“When that wall got built everything changed for us and we were able to manage the border enforcement actions there even better,” she said.

Border Patrol El Paso Sector spokesman Ramiro Cordero declined to comment on the group’s wall in Sunland Park, but he framed the issue in simple terms.

“Any time you have infrastructure along our border it’s going to help. And I give everybody the same example. Why do most of us, at least in this area, have a fence around our property? Does it help? Yes,  it keeps bad people out,” he said in a phone interview.

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