Feds file more land condemnation suits for border fence project

October 30, 2008 - 11:01PM
Kevin Sieff
The Brownsville Herald

BROWNSVILLE -- The federal government is moving forward with its plans to build the border fence in this area by filing land condemnation lawsuits involving nine Cameron County properties whose owners are unknown, deceased or unresponsive.

In South Texas, where land deeds are often convoluted or outdated, the legal action is a vital formality before construction on the barrier can begin.

"We're moving forward with our real estate proceedings," said Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for the U.S Department of Homeland Security.

In cases of unknown ownership, the government must run an advertisement in local newspapers, informing the public of pending lawsuits. The two-page ad ran in The Brownsville Herald's Thursday's edition, detailing several swaths of property throughout the county.

As of Sept. 10, a total of 97 landowners in the Rio Grande Valley had refused to sell their property to the federal government, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Homeland Security officials say they have continued resolving cases but have also encountered a number of convoluted deeds.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen is slated to hear seven land condemnation lawsuits this morning - a fraction of the remaining cases.

After receiving its appropriation request from Congress, Homeland Security is continuing with its plans to complete the fence in the coming months.

But with so many pending condemnation lawsuits - and no sign of fence construction in Cameron County - the government's initial Dec. 31 deadline appears increasingly unrealistic.