Uncertainty as Border Wall Efforts Continue at Butterfly Center
MISSION – Administrators at the National Butterfly Center are determined to find out if the actions already taken on the property are part of the proposed border levee wall.
It’s a similar situation for a Rio Grande Valley landowner who already challenged the federal government. She wants to keep her identity hidden. We will call her Mary.
Mary showed CHANNEL 5 NEWS maps of the proposed border wall draft book U.S. Customs and Border Protection sent her in November 2007.
In paper, dotted lines outline the Rio Grande Valley’s future border wall. But a yellow piece of rope tied outside in Mary’s backyard fence marks the division in Los Ebanos.
"This is my mark. I want to remember where it is just to be on the safe side,” she said.
Mary said the maps and piles of court paperwork represent five years of worry.
"Letters start coming in in the mail and I just kept ignoring them,” said Mary.
In 2007, CBP officials knocked on her door and offered to pay $8,800 for half her property.
"This property has been in our family since the 1800's. I'm actually the fifth generation,” she said.
Mary said CBP officials also gave her a 2007 environmental impact statement draft book. It’s a hard copy of the locations of the original proposed border wall for the entire Valley.
"Starting from Brownsville all the way to Roma and it's telling you all the ideas or all the way the border wall is going to be built,” she explained CHANNEL 5 NEWS.
Mary said she didn't give up and decided to fight for her property. CBP gave her $500 back for any damages acquired.
"This is the order of revetments and this was letting me know that I had gotten my property back and this was December the sixth, 2011,” she said.
She said her trust in the government is filled with doubt.
"I go to the post office every single day and hopefully God willing, I don't want to see a letter like those again,” said Mary.
Others in the Valley are feeling Mary's struggle. About a 30-minute drive south is the National Butterfly Center in Mission.
"They were on our property outside of the easement putting down the stakes and the X's and things like that for the aerial mapping and surveying,” said Mariana Wright-Trevino, executive director at the butterfly center.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS reported on the damage caused by the construction crews. Wright-Trevino told us the organization didn't get any notification.
"Customs and Border Protection is claiming right of way for a variety of thing, but they have yet to produce any proof of that or any documentation,” she said.
We reached out to CBP and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps explained they are “gathering geotechnical data to help CBP plan its current and future border security program.”
CBP told CHANNEL 5 NEWS 35 gates will be installed to close the gaps on the border during this fiscal year. They are sending letters to land owners as part of their process.
Wright-Trevino posted the letter on the center’s social media page, which reads in part:
"U.S. Customs and Border Protection is commencing public-facing landownership research for border security projects funded in the fiscal year 2017 DHS Appropriations Act.”
"It also asserts that they have not begun to engage land owners and from our experience clearly that is not true,” said Wright-Trevino.
She said the proof of land ownership is currently in question at the center.
On Friday, Mary contacted us to let us know she saw the same type of X's found at the butterfly center on her land.
Her message to others is to strive to keep their land.
“And for anybody else out there that are having the same problems that I am, go for it. Go fight it off,” she said.
The CBP letter states officials could begin "engagement activities" with landowners before the end of 2017.
Wright-Trevino said they’re checking on their property for any new activity and working with their legal counsel on the next steps going forward.
CBP said they are preparing to use existing funds to conduct research activities for the Valley border wall requirements for next year's fiscal budget.