Hidalgo County leans on feds to fill in levee breaches left behind when border wall construction ceased

Border Report

EDINBURG, Texas (Border Report) — With each passing day bringing South Texas closer to the start of hurricane season, Hidalgo County Commissioners are asking the Biden administration to fill in “dangerous breaches” that the Trump administration cut into an earthen levee system to facilitate border wall construction.

Not taking a political position on the border wall, the five-member court commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to pass a resolution, simply saying they fear for the safety of the 1 million people in the Rio Grande Valley should a catastrophic weather event occur if four giant levee breaches — large enough to drive trucks through — remain unrepaired.

“The ongoing national debate over a new immigration policy has included the wisdom of a border wall along parts of southern Hidalgo County resulting in different national administrations adopting different policies regarding a border wall,” the resolution read. “Federal officials opted to use portions of an existing earthen levee system for border wall construction to be located either atop or adjacent to the protective barrier; and this levee system is an important man-made barrier protecting large swaths of Hidalgo County from excessive flooding, particularly along the international boundary of the Rio Grande. Contractors building the newest sections of border wall tore down several areas of the existing earthen levee to allow for the transport of construction equipment and effectively breached the protective levee barrier along several points in Hidalgo County.”

“We are in a dangerous situation and we hope the federal government moves quickly,” Cortez said Tuesday after commissioners voted.

A barrier prevents passage through a large breach in a 25-foot-tall earthen levee near Palmview, Texas, as seen on April 14, 2021. There are at least four large gaps in the levee system that helps to prevent flooding in the Rio Grande Valley, which were caused by border wall construction. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week told local leaders they were not allowed to begin repairs of the levee breaches unless authorized to do so by the Department of Homeland Security. Furthermore, a general told Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez during that phone call that repairs could take up to nine months to complete, and just getting the construction crews back to the sites could take three to four weeks.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez speaks with Border Report on April 14, 2021, at a breach in a levee in Palmview, Texas. His five-member court is asking the federal government to fix the earthen levees. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“The levee breaches, that’s an important situation for us. Those levees were there and we need them to go back to what they were,” Cortez told Border Report earlier this week.

The Rio Grande Valley is a flood-prone delta region that is located at the perils of the mighty Rio Grande, which Mexicans call the Rio Bravo due to its deep and ferocious currents located here.

When President Joe Biden took office, he ordered an immediate halt to border wall construction activity. And that left several construction sites, where cuts to the earthen levee system had already been made, to go idle and unrepaired.

“Hidalgo County Commissioners Court calls on the Biden Administration to temporarily lift its border wall construction ban and order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to direct contractors to rebuild the levees to an equal-to or better-than preconstruction state so as to mitigate the danger of flooding to our community,” the resolution reads.

Hidalgo County Commissioners Court calls on the Biden Administration to temporarily lift its border wall construction ban and order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to direct contractors to rebuild the levees.”

Resolution passed Tuesday by the Hidalgo County Commissioners court

Commissioners also called on local congressional leaders “to impress on the Biden Administration the dangers of these levee wall breaches and implore the administration to fill these breaches.”

Cortez said that if there was a catastrophic weather event and the two regional dams begin releasing water and as little as 5 inches of rain falls, then the entire region could flood south of the expressway.

“There’s still a lot of unknowns and a lot of concerns I have as county judge,” he said.

Hurricane season begins June 1.

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