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National Butterfly Center planning expansion

Facing border wall construction that could potentially make them lose 70 percent of their property, the National Butterfly Center is moving forward with plans to expand the property by 350 acres.

The expansion, which could be finalized by the end of the year, would see the 100-acre property grow to 450 acres.

“We can’t disclose more details but we are receiving 350 acres and that will mean more acres we’ll be stewards of and a large part of the property will be revegetating the area for butterflies,” National Butterfly Center Executive Director Marianna Trevino-Wright said.

Trevino-Wright couldn’t disclose the location of the new property but said the center has been in discussions to expand since last year.

The center is embroiled in two separate lawsuits against the Department of Homeland Security and South Dakotan construction magnate Tommy Fisher for border wall construction in the area.

The initial lawsuit against DHS was filed in 2017 after staff with the center discovered government contractors trespassing on the property on behalf of the agency tearing down property in advance of a border wall construction project which was slated to cut through property in the center south of the levee.

The lawsuit sought to prevent DHS from entering the property and altering it. Since it got thrown out of court last year, Trevino-Wright said the center began to look for ways to keep the center open.

“We were fearful we’d lose 70% of our land to the border wall so expanding the property made this opportunity really appealing.” Trevino-Wright said. “And now we hope the border wall threat has passed but we still feel it’s the most responsible thing for us to do. It aligns with our mission of conserving and educating the public and we can put this land to permanent conservation as the rest of Hidalgo County experiences development.”

The center said the purchase of the property is expected to cost $350,000 and are seeking donations to help pay for it. 

“We can’t apply to grants until we actually have the title and deed of the property with us and we hope to finalize that in a matter of weeks,” Trevino-Wright said.  “It’s not just that we could potentially lose land, but border wall construction to the east of us could negatively affect us as the construction is working its way toward us.”

Trevino-Wright said that once the center has the title to the property, they can apply to federal and state grants to maintain the property.

“It’s a brand new property that we’ll need to fence completely and that could cost nearly $100,000 and we need to repopulate the area with vegetation to attract butterflies and animals,” Trevino-Wright added.

To prepare for the revegetation of the property, the center is adding another nursery in their current property to grow all the plants they plan to place in the new property. The center seeks a total of $12,500 in donations to help finish acquiring the land and constructing the nursery.

“In 2021 we hope to expand the wetland we have south of the levee and also add a public boat ramp to the Rio Grande,” Trevino-Wright said. “After the year we’ve had, we want to return our focus to all our resources to continue providing educational opportunities for people in our community.”

The center had to cancel their 25th annual butterfly festival due to COVID-19 concerns. On Thursday, the center took part in a status hearing regarding their lawsuit against Fisher and his construction companies, Fisher Industries and TGR Construction for a private border wall the companies built along the riverbank near the center. It is scheduled to go to trial next September.

The center also recently won their appeal in their DHS lawsuit and are awaiting to see if the lawsuit will move forward to trial. Trevino-Wright said she hopes a new incoming presidential administration would signal a change for border wall construction in the area after President-elect Joe Biden said his campaign will ensure not one more wall of border wall construction is made.

“Does he mean not one more foot of border wall will be constructed from what’s already funded and contracted or will the construction stop immediately?” Trevino-Wright said, noting that congress is currently voting on a $900B budget that needs to be passed by Friday, Dec. 11 or else the government will shut down. That budget currently has $1.9B allocated for border wall construction.

“We have more questions than answers but I am hopeful the future is bright and we will continue to create environmentally rich spaces for the Valley,” Trevino-Wright said.

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