PSB leases land for border wall construction
By Gustavo Reveles Acosta / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 08/25/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT

EL PASO -- Despite repeated votes from the City Council opposing the fence the U.S. Department of Homeland Security continues to build along the border with Mexico, the Public Service Board -- an autonomous city department -- recently leased several parcels of land to contractors building the controversial barrier.
The lease of land south of Socorro Road near the Rio Grande to Jobe Materials and Kiewit New Mexico could earn about $200,000.

But civic leaders said the lease goes against the spirit of the decisions made by council recently to oppose construction of the wall. The city joined a lawsuit against the federal government claiming the wall would break several environmental laws.

"Going against the wishes of the council, and the PSB being a city entity, is just wrong," said East-Valley city Rep. Eddie Holguin, a frequent critic of the PSB. "The decision on council against the wall was unanimous and (the lease) sheds more light in the need for accountability at the PSB."

The council, as well as County Commissioners Court, earlier this year supported resolutions opposing the fence. The Tigua tribe also has expressed concern about the fence. Tigua officials say it would prevent them from practicing religious ceremonies near the Rio Grande.

In El Paso, about 4 miles of the fence could be built at a height of 15 feet. The cost for the federal government to build the fence is about $3 million per mile.

The lease of the four Lower Valley properties -- which runs

for up to six months with options to extend for up to three months -- was approved by PSB President Ed Archuleta. The land will be used by the contractors to mix cement needed to build the fence, store construction equipment and hold the soil that will be removed during construction.
And while the move didn't need to be approved by the PSB, Archuleta did present information on the deal to the board in executive session earlier this month.

Mayor John Cook, who sits on the PSB, said he didn't see a conflict in leasing land and the city's opposition to the border fence.

"I know there are members of the City Council that are adamantly opposed in assisting the federal government in putting up the wall," he said. "But the area they're looking at is replacing existing fencing É except for about a seven-tenth of a mile portion that has had problem with bandidos crossing over anyway."

Cook said he has been vocal about the city's opposition to the barrier because of the federal government's decision to ignore certain environmental laws in its desire to build the structure in areas of high animal traffic.

But he admitted that he supports construction of a fence in certain areas, especially those in El Paso he says are responsible for keeping crime down.

"There are certain parts of the metropolitan area where physical barriers make sense, and there are several where they don't," Cook said. "Building a wall in the middle of a desert is a waste of taxpayers' money."

The mayor's rationale doesn't make sense to representatives of El Paso's Sierra Club, which has praised the city's decision to oppose the border fence.

"It seems hypocritical. The city has been very strong about their opposition to this wall," said Gil Piñon, the group's vice president. "It sends the wrong message to let these developers use land that technically belongs to the city."

Gustavo Reveles Acosta may be reached at; 546-6133.