HOUSTON (AP) — The private group that wants to build its own southern border wall next to the Rio Grande in Texas won't begin construction until the U.S. government certifies the project won't worsen flooding, the group's co-founder said Tuesday.
We Build the Wall, which was founded by supporters of President Donald Trump and has raised $25 million, had announced on Facebook that it was starting to build a barrier on 3.5 miles of private land next to the Rio Grande, which separates the U.S. and Mexico in Texas.
The barrier would be as close as 25 feet away from the river, close enough to raise fears that it would worsen flooding and erosion, damaging land and homes on both sides.
The International Boundary and Water Commission, which oversees the river under treaties signed with Mexico, asked the group on Friday to halt construction until it submits more information about the project so the commission could study it.
"We will not be building that structure until we have the proper approval from the IBWC because we don't want to violate the international treaty," said Brian Kolfage, who founded We Build the Wall last year.
Kolfage said contractors will continue to clear brush from the site and prepare for construction.
Eventually, the group wants to install 18-foot posts in front of a paved road. Kolfage says the posts will have enough space between them for wildlife to pass through.
"By definition, what we're building is a fence, not a wall," Kolfage said, adding that the group's position was that it did not need local approval to build a fence on private property.
Fisher Industries, the construction firm working with the group, recently submitted to the IBWC a one-page letter and a series of computer-drawn diagrams, which the commission released Tuesday. The documents claim that clearing brush in front of the barrier "will lower the flood elevation since there will be less obstructing vegetation on the banks."
Fisher did not respond to a request for comment.
Scott Nicol, a Sierra Club member and longtime resident of the Rio Grande Valley, criticized what the company had submitted.
"The fact that you drew a squiggly blue line and said, 'This proves the wall won't deflect water,' that's meaningless," Nicol said.
Nicol, an opponent of border wall construction, has collected years of documents from U.S. government agencies about border barriers and said the diagrams Fisher submitted were far less detailed. He predicted the commission would ultimately deny approval to the project.
"When you're that close to a body of water, the ground is going to be water-logged," he said. "They're not going to have a very strong foundation when the wall is hit by a flood, assuming it lasts that long."
An Iraq War veteran, Kolfage started raising money in December as Trump demanded that congressional Democrats provide $5.7 billion in border wall funding — leading to an impasse that eventually triggered the longest government shutdown in history.
The group's advisers include former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon and former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, a Trump ally and longtime advocate of restrictive immigration laws.
So far, the group has built less than 1 mile of barrier near El Paso. The South Texas barrier is the group's second project.
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