On­the bor­der

Zinke: Wall along U. S.- Mex­ico bor­der faces ge­o­graphic chal­lenges

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Matthew Daly and Ali­cia A. Cald­well

Ge­o­graphic and phys­i­cal chal­lenges — in­clud­ing the Rio Grande and threat­ened wildlife— will make it dif­fi­cult to build the “big, beau­ti­ful wall” that President Don­ald Trump has promised on the U. S.- Mex­ico bor­der, In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke said Wed­nes­day.

Build­ing a wall “is com­plex in some ar­eas,” in­clud­ing Big Bend Na­tional Park and along the river, which twists through nearly half of the 2,000- mile bor­der, Zinke said.

Hun­dreds of species live within 30 miles of the bor­der, in­clud­ing threat­ened jaguars and Mex­i­can gray wolves. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is poised to re­lax pro­tec­tions for the jaguars, which live in north­ern Mex­ico and parts of the south­west­ern United States, to make it eas­ier to build the wall.

Through­out the cam­paign, Trump en­er­gized his crowds with his in­sis­tence that a wall will be con­structed along the bor­der and that Mex­ico will pay for it. Zinke’s com­ments, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bud­get pro­posal seek­ing bil­lions in U. S. tax­payer dol­lars to fi­nance the project, of­fer a re­al­ity check and a pos­si­ble sign the president is mov­ing away from his ini­tial plan.

The De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity is re­spon­si­ble for the bor­der wall, but Zinke said the In­te­rior De­part­ment will play a crit­i­cal sup­port role.

“At the end of the day what’s im­por­tant is Amer­i­can se­cu­rity and to make sure we have a bor­der,” Zinke told re­porters on a con­fer­ence call. “With­out a bor­der a na­tion can­not ex­ist.”

An in­ter­nal re­port pre­pared for Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John Kelly es­ti­mated that awall along the en­tire bor­der would cost about $ 21 bil­lion. Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans have es­ti­mated a more mod­er­ate price tag of $ 12 bil­lion to $ 15 bil­lion.

Zinke’s com­ments ap­peared to bol­ster that view and fol­lowed re­marks he made Tues­day to the Pub­lic Lands Coun­cil, a group that rep­re­sents Western ranch­ers.

“The bor­der is com­pli­cated, as far as build­ing a phys­i­cal wall,” Zinke said in re­marks first re­ported by E& E News. “The Rio Grande, what side of the river are you go­ing to put thewall? We’re not go­ing to put it on our side and cede the river to Mex­ico. And we’re prob­a­bly not go­ing to put it in the mid­dle of the river.”

Elec­tronic mon­i­tors may be more ap­pro­pri­ate in that re­gion, Zinke said.

The bor­der is al­ready dot­ted­with un­der­ground sen­sors and camera tow­ers, along with about 700 miles of fenc­ing in Texas, New Mex­ico, Ari­zona and Cal­i­for­nia, and it’s un­clear how much new fenc­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is propos­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to new bud­get de­tails sent to Congress, the ad­min­is­tra­tion wants im­me­di­ate fund­ing to com­plete an ex­ist­ing bar­rier in the Rio Grande Val­ley, $ 500 mil­lion to com­plete 28 miles of a bor­der levee wall near McAllen, Texas, and $ 350 mil­lion for con­struc­tion along two seg­ments near San Diego.

Tourists pose for pho­tos in Santa Elena Canyon near a cliff face that is in­Mex­ico, on the banks of the Rio Grande river in Big Bend Na­tional Park in Texas. Here the Rio Grande slides be­tween two sheer cliff faces, one in­Mex­ico and one in the United States, that tower 1,500 feet above the water. Ro­drigo Abd, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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