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Trump administration waives environmental review to replace more San Diego border fencing

Peter Rowe, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

In 1996, the secondary fence of steel mesh was installed.

Apprehensions in the area steeply declined as crossing routes moved farther east.

In recent years, the barrier has been repeatedly breached, often by battery-powered saws that can rapidly create holes large enough for people. The Border Patrol has covered some areas of the mesh with rolls of concertina wire to further deter breaches.

SLSCO Ltd., a Texas company, has a $101 million government contract to replace that meshed fence with 30-foot-tall steel bollards. With to the waiver, construction could begin this month.

Environmental groups criticized the decision. The existing 600-plus miles of border barriers already harms more than a dozen rare species, they said.

"It comes as no surprise that the Trump administration continues to bypass laws established to keep our communities and wildlife safe to further their dangerous border security agenda," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife.

In 2018, after similar waivers were issued to speed the construction of the replacement primary fencing in San Diego and 60 miles of fencing in Texas, the Trump administration was sued by the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

The nonprofits argued that the waiver was unconstitutional, allowing Homeland Security to violate the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws. Building barriers on the border, they maintained, could damage habitats, rare plants and threatened animals.

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Last February, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel in San Diego dismissed the case. In December, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

Lawsuits are still pending on waivers that DHS issued to hasten the construction of border barriers in New Mexico and another portion of the Texas-Mexico boundary.

"This is the sixth time the Trump administration has issued these waivers and we are fundamentally opposed to all of them," said Laiken Jordahl, a borderlands campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity. "We think there is no justification for ignoring environmental, safety and health concerns to rush through this unnecessary wall."

(c)2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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