A group of U.S. House Democrats from Texas have sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security questioning the agency's alleged intentions to build a 3-mile portion of the U.S.–Mexico border wall through a wildlife preservation area in the southern part of the state, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
The lawmakers asked acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke to verify that the DHS is planning to build the section of wall in the preserve and, if so, whether the agency intends to follow the environmental, wildlife and water regulations that must be met for such a project.
Those opposed to construction said the wall would cut the property at its northern boundary, a move that could reduce the number of visitors into the preserve and harm the important natural habitat for birds and endangered wildcats. The DHS could exempt itself from such environmental regulations because the land is federally owned.
Delays have mired President Donald Trump's plans to build a wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Meanwhile funding for the project, which is expected to cost $22 billion, remains limited.
The agency was supposed to start wall prototype construction this summer, but it has been held up by an official protest from an unsuccessful bidder. That process likely won't permit construction to start until November.
In the meantime, the DHS announced that a 15-mile section of the border, where it will build the prototypes and execute other security projects, was exempt from the environmental regulations that would normally apply.
The DHS said the move to waive compliance with environmental regulations was meant to expedite construction. However, it's possible that both the preserve project in Texas and the San Diego prototype construction could be held up by additional legal challenges concerning their environmental impact.
The likelihood is particularly high in California, where the rigorous California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has been a handy tool for conservationists to fight other development projects. The regulation was used to delay construction of the $1 billion Golden State Warriors arena in San Francisco for about a year, and it is expected to play a role in the fight against a planned $17.1 billion tunnel under the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta.