Levee wall contract to be awarded in May

McALLEN — Despite the lack of funds appropriated for its construction, vendors seeking to land a lucrative border wall construction contract were notified yesterday they can start bidding on the contract this month.

A contract valued between $25 million and $100 million for construction of about 3 miles of levee wall system in the Rio Grande Valley will be awarded in May, according to a government website that posts federal contracts.

Solicitations can be submitted beginning Feb. 25, with the deadline 30 days later but are “contingent on FY 2018 funding,” the post states.

Just before noon Friday, Federal Business Opportunities listed the project information in a pre-solicitation notice posted to its website.

That notice required construction services, including the design, build and bid construction of “approximately 3 miles of levee wall on the south toe of the U.S. International Boundary Water Commission levee in the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector.”

The notice went on to list the project as also including the “installation of fiber-optic cable, lighting systems, and construction of an all-weather patrol road and enforcement zone.”

The Federal Business Opportunities website posts all federal procurement opportunities of more than $25,000 in value.

In an email Thursday, Department of Homeland Security and CBP officials stated the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were expected to publish a “pre-solicitation” in Federal Business Opportunities to make vendors aware of the coming solicitation, according to multiple congressional aides who read the email.

Rod Kise, public affairs officer for CBP, confirmed the publication Friday morning.

“…(The) pre-solicitation (is) for companies to let the government know they’re interested in the project,” Kise said.

Under “place of performance,” the notice lists Alamo, which is where the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is located.

Environmentalists around the world consider the refuge the “crown jewel of the national wildlife system,” where more than 165,000 people visit annually, according to a near decade-old study conducted by researchers with the Texas A&M University. The study also estimated that more than $460 million pours into the Valley from ecotourism, the majority of which comes from birders who travel to the world-renowned refuge.

In January, more than 600 people attended a concert rally at the refuge, where attendees were urged to pressure lawmakers to reject any deal that would include funding for construction that environmentalists fear would destroy the refuge.

Scott Nicol, executive member of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club, questioned the notice’s publication at a time when funding has yet to be approved by Congress.

“Congress hasn’t even given Customs and Border Protection the money to do that,” Nicol said. “They are apparently acting on their own, deciding that they’re going to go ahead and potentially build border walls and associated enforcement zones no matter what Congress says. And Santa Ana will be the first place they target.”

Efren Olivares, an Alamo-based attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, expressed similar concern.

“It’s very concerning because it means that as soon as they get funding for it they plan to start construction here in the Valley,” Olivares said. “Given that it’s 3 miles and no condemnation action has begun, it makes me think that it relates to land that is already owned by the federal government. That would be the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.”

Olivares also echoed Nicol’s sentiments about border wall funding.

“They claim that it’s contingent on the fiscal year 2018 funding, but there’s already a deadline for submitting the bids,” Olivares added. “People who choose to participate, they will incur some costs in preparing those bids. I think they are putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. They don’t have the money yet, so instead of following the regular process, they’re getting ahead of themselves.”

Nicol believes the refuge has been “targeted” because it is federally owned, quipping that President Donald Trump is getting “his trophy quickly” at the refuge’s expense.

The notice also comes weeks after the president proposed to protect nearly 2 million Dreamers from deportation in exchange for $25 billion in border wall construction funds.

“The Trump administration is jumping the gun, soliciting bids for border walls before Congress has given him the money to pay for them,” Nicol added. “Changing the gentle slope of the levee into the sheer slab of a levee-border wall will stop terrestrial animals from escaping rising water when the Rio Grande floods. The wildlife refuge will become a death trap for endangered ocelots.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said funding for any construction in the Valley would have to be approved by Congress first.

“…This request is completely premature considering that government funding has yet to be given in the current fiscal year,” Cuellar said Friday afternoon. “We should focus on enacting full-year appropriations prior to soliciting vendors for these specific levee walls.”

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, reacted to the publication of the notice while on the heels of working to avoid another government shutdown in Washington.

“Issuing a pre-solicitation when Congress has not even appropriated funds to begin the construction of the border wall is absurd,” Vela said in a prepared statement.

“At this moment, the funds are not there to begin construction, and as we all know, Mexico will not be footing the bill. The real border wall battle lies ahead. Unfortunately, now even some Democrats have fallen into the Republican trap of extracting border wall funding in exchange for Dreamer protections. I refuse to take that bait, especially if the price we are expected to pay is the construction of a wall at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.”

Abraham Diaz, a Dreamer and member of local immigrant advocacy group La Union Del Pueblo Entero, said the notice disregards efforts to achieve protections for DACA recipients.

“I think it goes against everything that we’ve been working for, we’ve been calling for a clean dream act,” Diaz said.

It was in September 2017 when the Trump administration announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — otherwise known as DACA, an Obama-era executive action that shielded from deportation hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth brought to the country illegally by their parents.

Lawmakers have since worked toward a replacement for DACA but have yet to come to a bipartisan deal to protect the more than 700,000 recipients — this with less than a month before the program is set to expire on March 5.

Diaz said a clean DREAM Act — a DACA deal devoid of border wall construction funds, something Trump said is a sticking point in any deal that he would approve — would avoid using Dreamers as bargaining chips for the president’s campaign promise of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Diaz said a border wall means increased surveillance on those Dreamers who call the U.S.-Mexico border region home.

“…He’s not taking into consideration thousands of families who will be affected,” Diaz said. “All if not most do not approve (of a border wall); do not want this; do not feel there is a need.”