MCALLEN, RGV – In the light of the FBI’s raid on Dannenbaum Engineering, the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club is urging Hidalgo County to rescind its letter asking DHS to build a border wall in conjunction with levee reconstruction.
The FBI raided Dannenbaum offices at various locations in Texas on Wednesday, including McAllen.
Working with Hidalgo County Drainage District No.1, Dannenabum developed plans for a 30-mile, $378.9 million, border wall/levee rehabilitation project. The plans were included with a letter sent by Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia to DHS Secretary John F. Kelly and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
The letter was titled Continued Partnership for Protecting the U.S./Mexico Border – Border Levee Strengthening & Security Infrastructure Project.
In the letter, Garcia said the project provides “much needed flood protection against waters from the Rio Grande River, while at the same time providing border security to our great nation.” Garcia wrote the letter in his capacity as chairman of Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1. The Drainage District board comprises all Hidalgo County commissioners.
Even though border wall construction and levee repair is a federal responsibility, Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 proposed a 90/10 cost allocation, with DHS paying for 90 percent and Hidalgo County ten percent.
“We hope that Judge Garcia and the County Commission use this as an opportunity to distance themselves from Dannenbaum and to rescind their letter to Congress that promotes Dannenbaum’s levee-border wall plans,” said Stefanie Herweck, a member of RGV Sierra Club’s executive committee.
Herweck said she and other members of the Sierra Club said they met with Judge Garcia last week to urge him to rescind the letter sent to Secretary Kelly. She said the Sierra Club also wants Hidalgo County Commissioners to pass a resolution against the building of any more border walls in the county.
“It makes no sense to tear apart our newly-rebuilt river levees to build Trump’s border wall on them. We do not need the wall for flood protection, and the vast majority of county residents are vehemently opposed to the border wall in all forms. Levee-border walls across the whole county would also be an environmental catastrophe that would end our dreams of a wildlife corridor and would cut off Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.”
Herweck added that the International Boundary & Water Commission, which has responsibility for Rio Grande river and floodway levees, has stated that all the levees in Hidalgo County have been rehabilitated.
Julia Benitez Sullivan, public affairs director for Hidalgo County, said Judge Garcia was out of town at a legal conference and unavailable for comment. Sullivan confirmed that members of the Sierra Club met with Garcia last week.
She said the point of the letter sent on behalf of the Drainage District Board of Directors, which is comprised by the four Commissioners and Judge Garcia, was that, if the administration was going to build a border wall it be done in such a way that would have some benefit to the Rio Grande Valley by shoring up the levees.
“At the time, it looked like it was going to happen regardless,” Sullivan said. “Judge Garcia reiterated to the Sierra Club members that he is opposed to any barrier or wall. The judge has expressed that he plans to present the Sierra Club’s request at an upcoming meeting.”
Sullivan added that anything presented to the Hidalgo County Drainage District Board or Commissioners Court would be posted to the agenda. The agendas are usually available online by 6:30 p.m. on Friday prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
A Rio Grande Guardian reporter visited Dannenbaum Engineering’s McAllen offices on Thursday. Richard D. Seitz, senior vice president of operations for Dannenbaum, said he would likely be willing to comment about his company’s border wall-levee proposals once he has seen Judge Garcia’s comments.
Joel M. Androphy, of Berg & Androphy, counsel for Dannenbaum Engineering, issued this statement on Wednesday:
“Dannenbaum Engineering, one of the state’s premier firms for infrastructure planning and design, is cooperating with federal authorities regarding government requests for information. Company management is investigating the basis of the government requests. We are uncertain whether the inquiry is focused on the company’s activities or those of its business competitors. We intend to comment further when appropriate.”
John-Michael Torres, communications director for La Unión del Pueblo Entero, said LUPE members plan to attend the next meeting of Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 to protest the letter sent to DHS.
“Judge Ramon Garcia and Hidalgo County Commissioners need to show their constituents that they are on the right side of Trump’s border wall issue. Opposition to the border wall is growing, both locally and nationally. Sixty percent of Texans oppose the wall and not a single member of Congress from the border supports funding it,” Torres said.
“Thanks to that opposition, Trump’s request for border wall funding was rejected from this week’s must-pass spending bill. That should give courage to the county judge and commissioners to get on the right side of this issue. They can do that by rescinding their letter to DHS and Chairman McCaul, and passing a strongly-worded resolution condemning the construction of additional border walls and fences.”
Dannenbaum Engineering is proud of the work it did for Hidalgo County and DHS nine years ago. The company oversaw the construction of 20.72 miles of border fencing and reinforced levees. In its latest construction plans, Dannenbaum is proposing an additional 30.64 miles of border walls with reinforced levees in Hidalgo County.
Judge Garcia included Dannenbaum’s plans in his letter to Secretary Kelly and Congressman McCaul.
The plans, developed in conjunction with L&G Engineering, are as follows:
1) Construction of the Mission Levee, around the Madero area, covering 7.33 miles. It is known as Prop O-4D on HCDD No. 1’s official documents. It would cost an estimated $82.6 million to construct, with a total development cost of $95.5 million. It would connect to 4.35 miles of existing wall-levee to the west and the Main Floodway at Anzalduas Dam to the east.
2) Construction of the Common Levee, south of Granjeno, would start next to the Main Floodway at Anzalduas Dam and would stretch eastward for 5.23 miles. Known as Prop O-6D on HCDD No. 1’s official documents and would cost $59.3 million to construct, with a total development cost of $68.5 million.
3) Construction of the Hidalgo County Loop Levee would cover 0.79 miles. It is known as Prop O-6E on HCDD No. 1’s official documents and runs south from Prop O-6D to an existing wall-levee that runs south and then west for 3.86 miles. The construction cost of this new levee would be $7.6 million, with a total development cost of almost $8.8 million.
4) Construction of Lateral A Improvement would cover 10.64 miles. It would connect in the west to 3.86 miles of existing wall-levee and in the east to an existing wall-levee close to the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge. Known as Prop O-7B on HCDD No. 1’s official documents, it would cost $116.3 million to construct, with a total development cost of $134.5 million.
5) Construction of another part of the Donna-Brownsville Levee System, next to the to the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge, would cover 0.81 miles. Known as Prop O-7C on HCDD No. 1’s official documents, it would connect to an existing 3.25 miles of existing wall-levee south of Donna. It would cost an estimated to $10 million to construct, with a total development cost of $11.5 million.
6) Construction of another part of the Donna-Brownsville Levee System, south of Weslaco, would cover 1.76 miles. It would connect to an existing 3.25 miles of wall-levee on the west an existing 4.07 miles of wall-levee to the east. This existing wall-levee to the east stops at the Progreso International Bridge. Known as Prop O-8B on HCDD No. 1’s official documents, the new stretch of wall-levee would cost $15.6 million to construct, with a total development cost of $18 million.
7) Construction of another part of the Donna-Brownsville Levee System would cover 4.08 miles. It would connect with 2.43 miles of existing wall-levee that runs east from the Progreso International Bridge. To the west, it would connect to the Cameron County Line. Known as Prop O-10B on HCDD No. 1’s official documents this new wall-levee would cost $36.2 million to construct, with a total development cost of $41.9 million.
Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 Letter
Here is Judge Garcia’s letter requesting DHS and Congress fund an additional 30.64 miles of border walls with levee rehabilitation in Hidalgo County:
Hon. Congressman McCaul
Chairman of Homeland Security
Attn. John F. Kelly
Secretary of Homeland Security
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C., 20528
Re: Continued Partnership for Protecting the U.S./Mexico Border – Border Levee Strengthening & Security Infrastructure Project
DHS – CBP-08-112-001 (Including Amendments A001-A004)
On behalf of the citizens of Hidalgo County, I want to express our gratitude to the Federal Government, more specifically the Department of Homeland Security, for the work done to date under the joint grant agreement titled “Hidalgo County Border Infrastructure Improvement Program” dated 05/02/2008.
To date, the “Border Levee Strengthening & Security Infrastructure Project”, that resulted from the above referenced program, has served a dual purpose in providing over 20 miles of much needed flood protection against waters from the Rio Grande River, while at the same time providing border security to our great nation as identified on Exhibit A attached.
The original intent was to complete approximately 50 miles of a river protective levee/wall for the entire length of Hidalgo County which is the most populous county along the Texas/Mexico border.
The estimated cost to complete the 50-mile program is projected to be just over $611,567,856.63. This active and open program to date has been awarded a total of $232,640,656.63 of which the local participation by Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 consisted of $58,166,594 and a DHS contribution of $174,474,062.63. This funding was utilized to successfully complete the above referenced 20 miles of the Federal Border Infrastructure Project.
Based on the “Hidalgo County Levee Rehabilitation Project Economic Impact Study” prepared in April 2009 by the University of Texas Pan American, it was determined this $232,640,653 expenditure created a stimulus of over $317,000,000 of economic impact to the area, and created over 3,000 jobs. This was a tremendous boost to the economy of Hidalgo County in 2008 and 2009 when the rest of Texas and the Country experienced a severe economic downturn.
Using a similar method of analysis, it is projected that Phase II would create over $500,000,000 of economic impact and over 5,000 new jobs. Needless to say, this would be a tremendous economic stimulus and jobs program for Hidalgo County and the Nation.
In order to complete this program, the partnership between Hidalgo County Drainage District No.1 and DHS needs to be continued via the preparation and approval of Amendment #5 to the previously referenced Grant Agreement.
Amendment #5 needs to increase the total federal share from $174,474,062.63 to $553,401,262.63 for a net increase of $378,927,200. With the approval of Amendment #5, the continued partnership between DHS and Hidalgo County would result in an approximate 90/10 cost sharing breakdown for the $611,567,856.63 program.
As I am sure you would agree, securing our borders is the responsibility of the Federal Government, however, due to the importance of protecting our borders for illegal immigration, as well as from flood waters from the Rio Grande River, we feel that the continued partnership is essential to protecting the State of Texas, as well as the United States.
Hon. Ramon Garcia
Chairman of the Board
Copies of the letter were sent to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, speaker of the House, U.S. Rep. Paul Brady, chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, the majority whip, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the majority leader, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Hidalgo County Commissioners, U.S. International Boundary & Water Commission Commissioner Edward Drusina, and Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 General Manager Raul E. Sesin.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include new information from Hidalgo County. Reporter Apolonio Sandoval, Jr., contributed to this story from Edinburg, Texas.