Rio Grande Valley getting its first new border wall under Trump administration

Latest version will use cameras, fiber optic sensors; New section has price tag of $167M

DONNA, Texas – One of the nation’s first new sections of the border wall, not a replacement, is being built near Donna and will be unlike existing structures that are more than a decade old.

“The new levee wall system is much better,” said Jason Montemayor, U.S. Border Patrol special operations supervisor with the Rio Grande Valley sector’s wall team. “It has technology features, as well. It’s going to have human-like features.”

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Montemayor said surveillance cameras will be able to see any activity, and fiber optic sensors will sense any vibrations that computers can distinguish whether people are making them.

“Vibrations are unique,” Montemayor said.

But the “smart wall” comes at a higher cost. Montemayor said the eventual eight-mile section that they plan to have completed in a year has a price tag of approximately $167 million. That’s about $20 million per mile.

Montemayor said the existing wall cost about $8-10 million per mile.

He said the latest version is also taller, 18-feet high above its concrete base, including a steel panel that serves as an “anti-climb feature.”

Montemayor said the agency is confident the new wall will discourage smugglers.

“They will not want to conduct business here in the Rio Grande Valley sector," he said.

However, Scott Nicol, with the Lower Rio Grande Valley chapter of the Sierra Club and a longtime opponent of border walls, said what hasn’t changed is that many property owners continue to fight eminent domain.

Nicol said in Hidalgo and Starr counties alone, “hundreds and hundreds of landowners" with 1,100 parcels of land do not want border walls on their properties.

He said the fact that the disputes over border walls have persisted over the years “tells me people just don’t understand what walls do.”

For those pushing for more border walls, “It’s strictly a political issue for them,” Nicol said.

“It’s all about riling up the anti-immigrant base,” he said. “It’s not the people who will be hurt, not the ecosystems that will be damaged.”

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