Battle over border wall construction on Starr County bird preserve to continue in court next month

By: Tanvi Varma

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Last year, the Trump administration sued to build a border wall on a stretch of land that cuts through the Salineño Bird Preserve in Starr County.

Nearly two weeks ago, the bird preserve was served again for the same access. The U.S. government is now asking for 0.7 acres of the 2.6 acre preserve. 

The bird preserve is owned by the Valley Land Fund, a nonprofit that works to preserve wildlife in the Rio Grande Valley.

“If you said, no more wall, or not another foot of border wall, then mean it,” said Valley Land Fund Director Debralee Garcia-Rodriguez. “The piece of property that they want most is the part where all the visitors come to visit us.”

Garcia-Rodriguez says the just compensation they’re receiving is not enough. Starr County appraisals show the tract of land that’s being condemned is worth $16,000, but they’ve been offered about $10,000.

“It’s not just the land, it is the wildlife,” Garcia-Rodriguez said.

Press releases from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show that last year in Salineno, CBP found millions of dollars’ worth of drugs. The DHS website says that the wall comes to “high priority areas,” “where illegal border crossers can quickly vanish into the surrounding.”

Environmentalists are concerned about the impact construction could have.

“We’ve been chipping away at the habitats of so many species for decades and centuries,” said Dr. Christopher Gabler with the UTRGV School of Earth, Environmental and Marine Sciences. “We’re reaching this point where they’re already just living on fragments. They are separated which is why these corridors are so important. “

We reached out to the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas and did not hear back. CBP declined to comment. We also reached out to Congressman Henry Cuellar to find out why some border wall contracts are being cancelled and others not. He did not get a chance to speak with us.

The bird preserve will be open for another week, and their court date is set for April 7. After that, the director says she's not sure if or when the preserve will be open.


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