Land ac­qui­si­tion, costs threaten construction of bor­der fence

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY SEAN LENGELL

De­lays and cost over­runs have threat­ened a sched­uled end-ofyear com­ple­tion of a 670-mile se­cu­rity fence along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der, while the House voted to deny Mex­i­can truck­ers full ac­cess to U.S. high­ways.

The Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment’s Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion divi­sion last week said an ex­tra $400 mil­lion is needed to fin­ish the fence on time. The short­fall is due to the ris­ing costs of fuel and steel, as well as a la­bor short­age, the agency said.

“If we run out of money, un­for­tu­nately the construction will have to stop,” said CBP Deputy Com- mis­sioner Jayson Ah­ern.

As of Au­gust, the agency had pre­dicted the project would be fin­ished on time. It re­ported that 341 miles of fenc­ing had been built, in­clud­ing 187 miles of fenc­ing de­signed to in­hibit pedes­trian traf­fic and 154 miles of bar­ri­ers to block ve­hi­cles.

The av­er­age cost of a mile of pedes­trian fenc­ing is $7.5 mil­lion — an in­crease of $3.5 mil­lion from Fe­bru­ary es­ti­mates, said a re­port by the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice, Congress’ in­ves­tiga­tive and au­dit­ing arm. Ve­hi­cle fenc­ing now costs $2.8 mil­lion per mile, an $800,000 in­crease.

GAO of­fi­cials told law­mak­ers at a House hear­ing on Capi­tol Hill Sept. 10 that de­lays in land ac­qui- sition is an­other big prob­lem. As of three weeks ago, 320 prop­er­ties needed to build the fence hadn’t been ac­quired, and court dates for 77 landown­ers who are re­fus­ing to sell hadn’t been sched­uled, said Richard Stana, the GAO’s di­rec­tor of home­land se­cu­rity and jus­tice is­sues.

“Ul­ti­mately the de­lays could ad­versely af­fect the Bor­der Pa­trol’s ef­forts to se­cure the (Mex­i­can) bor­der,” Mr. Stana said.

He added that com­ple­tion of the fence by the year’s end “is in jeop­ardy” if is­sues re­lated to land ac­qui­si­tion aren’t re­solved within the next three weeks.

Congress has ap­pro­pri­ated about $2.7 bil­lion for the project since 2006, the GAO said. And the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity has asked for an­other $775 mil­lion for fis­cal year 2009, which be be­gins Oct. 1.

CBP Com­mis­sioner W. Ralph Basham said at the hear­ing his agency has done all it could to com­plete the project on time, and de­fended it against what he said were un­fair and un­founded at­tacks by some law­mak­ers.

“We did not, nor will not, rush to de­ploy some­thing that is not ready just to meet our dead­line, or any­one else’s,” Mr. Basham said.

Mean­while, the House on Sept. 9 de­fied a White House veto threat and voted 395-18 to re­verse a de­ci­sion by the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment to con­tinue a pi­lot pro­gram that gives a lim­ited num­ber of Mex­i­can-based truck­ing com­pa­nies ac­cess to U.S. roads. The pro­gram, which also gives U.S. com­pa­nies ac­cess to Mex­i­can high­ways, be­gan last year as part of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment (NAFTA).

The pro­gram will con­tinue for now, as the Se­nate has yet to sched­ule a vote on the is­sue. The cham­ber last year voted to cut fund­ing for the pro­gram, but the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion ar­gued the law was am­bigu­ous and kept the bor­der open.

The Mex­i­can Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton said it was “deeply con­cerned” about the House vote and wel­comed the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­ten­tion to veto the mea­sure.

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.