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U.S. Customs and Border Protection wants to survey land near La Joya sewer plant for border wall

When the federal government asked permission to survey land near the La Joya sewer plant, an initial step required to build the border wall, Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas wasn’t impressed.

“Commissioners, look at Page 1 of the Right-of-Entry,” Mayor Salinas said, referencing a four-page document U.S. Customs and Border Protection provided to the city.

lajoyalogonewSalinas — who is well known at City Hall for his attention to detail — pointed to Item 6.

“It says ‘The property that is subject to this right-of-entry is located in the State of Texas, County of Starr County,’” Salinas said with a laugh. “This is not Starr County.”

For the federal government, which didn’t send anyone to walk Salinas through the request, the La Joya City Commission meeting on March 12 didn’t produce results.

Salinas wanted to know why the federal government asked to survey the 16-acre property, which is located near the intersection of Garza Avenue and Military Road.

La Joya neglected the land for years.

The city allowed people to dump trash, brush and debris on the property, which triggered an investigation by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

While the commission assessed a $15,000 penalty, it allowed La Joya to complete a so-called “supplemental environmental project” rather than pay the fine.

After cleaning up the mess, La Joya let the land sit idle.

Salinas asked what, exactly, Customs and Border Protection had planned for the property. City Administrator Mike Alaniz said he didn’t know.

A few years back, the federal government wanted to build a communication tower near the sewer plant, Alaniz said, recalling conversations with Border Patrol.

“It was granted back then but, eventually, nothing happened,” Alaniz said.

What prompted the federal government to request a survey remains unclear, Alaniz said, adding that he didn’t know what Customs and Border Protection wanted.

The document, however, clearly indicates that Customs and Border Protection may build a wall through the property.

“CBP anticipates that the FY19 appropriation will fund border wall system in this location,” according to a statement released by Customs and Border Protection, which references the 2019 fiscal year. “The border wall system is planned to include steel bollard wall, patrol road, and associated technology. Planning is currently underway. CBP will consult with the impacted stakeholders on the final alignment and design.”

Customs and Border Protection asked permission to conduct surveys, environmental assessments and other activity necessary for “Border Infrastructure Projects,” according to the document, which is titled “Right-of-Entry For Survey and Site Assessment.”

The document also includes a signature line for Loren Flossman, who is described as the “Wall Program Portfolio Manager” for the U.S. Border Patrol Program Management Office Directorate.

A map attached to the document labels part of the property “RGV-MCS-1302,” which is apparently a 2.42-acre portion of the overall tract. That portion runs parallel to Military Road.

Concerned the Customs and Border Protection project would prevent La Joya from expanding the sewer plant, Salinas and Alaniz suggested the City Commission table the request.

“I recommend, maybe, we possibly meet with U.S. Customs or Border Patrol and actually find out exactly why is it that they need this survey,” Alaniz said. “Because when I asked, they said it could be utilized for various reasons. And that kind of concerned me a bit.”

The motion passed unanimously. Salinas and the City Commission may discuss the request again on April 9.

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