Border Patrol officers stand behind a plan to enhance existing levees as a form of border security.

May 5, 2008 - 10:51AM
Jackie Leatherman and Jeremy Roebuck

EDINBURG - The border wall levee project in Hidalgo County now has a price tag: $113.9 million.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security signed an agreement released Monday that shows it will give Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 $65.7 million to construct the concrete barrier along portions of its levees. The drainage district will be responsible for coming up with the other $48.2 million.

Segments of the barrier in Hidalgo County add up to 22 miles and will be constructed along the river.

The drainage district's share is to fix the land side of the levees, according to the agreement.

Voters passed a $100-million bond issue in 2006 that will be used to fix portions of the levee without a border wall but it is unclear if portions of that will be used toward the district's portion of the agreement.

The agreement also pushes back the final deadline for the project from December to March 31, simply stating the wall needs to be "substantially complete" by this year's end.

Hidalgo County attorney Steve Crain said the district has not yet received any federal funding and did not have an exact date on when the funding would be distributed. The district can now advertise for companies to submit how much they would charge to construct the segments, though Crain did not have a specific date on when the advertisements would begin.

Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas touted Monday's announcement as a victory.

County leaders had struggled for years to secure federal funding to repair the region's ailing levee system. Their efforts took on new urgency last year when new Federal Emergency Management Agency maps threatened to declare most of the county a flood plain. So, when it became clear months ago that the border wall would go up despite their objections, county officials jumped on the opportunity to make the best of a losing battle.

"The people and the future economic vitality of Hidalgo County are safer today than they (were) yesterday thanks to this federal grant and the open-minded attitudes of all who worked on it," Salinas said in a prepared public statement.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced the fence-levee compromise Feb. 8, holding the agreement up as an example of how federal government officials were willing to cooperate with local leaders on the controversial fence project.

Current plans call for more than 670 miles of pedestrian and vehicle barriers constructed along the southern international border to protect the country from illegal entry from Mexico. DHS announced in March that it was exercising its Congressional authority to waive more than 30 environmental laws to speed the wall's construction.

The drainage district will oversee day-to-day operations but will be subject to architecture and design approvals from DHS and must submit quarterly financial updates, the document states. The department will also have the authority to operate an on-site joint office.


Jackie Leatherman covers Hidalgo County government and general assignments at The Monitor. She can be reached at (956) 683-4424. ... levee.html