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As we speak, a costly federal project is in progress at the southern tip of San Diego County: Sector VI of the new triple border fence, more accurately called “the border wall” in Texas, is carving a deep scar into the California coastal scrub landscape from San Ysidro west to Border Field State Park, where the primary border fence descends into the beautiful blue waves of the Pacific. The reported cost of the project nationally is a mere $1 million per mile, not including cost overruns, of course. In May, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that contractors estimated the cost for the 4.5 miles of San Diego Sector VI at $48 million.

Yes, this is the same border fence project that we have been hearing about since the border fence was a mere twinkle in the eye of our own 52nd District Representative Duncan Hunter back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. And so, why should we pay attention to this now? The triple fence project became the object of mockery last Thursday evening at the Orchid & Onions Awards, where an Onion Award and slide presentation of the project was accompanied by Green Day’s punk-pop anthem “American Idiot.” But what I hear from most people is resignation: “Well, they’re going to build it anyway.” I’m hoping to give you a few reasons today to pay attention to this construction project. It is costly, it may not be particularly effective, there has been considerable resistance to the federal land grab in San Diego and other parts of the country, and finally—we are paying for this. Thus, we may have an interest in knowing where our tax dollars are going.

The Department of Homeland Security hit the ground running earlier this year, and Kiewit Corporation, a contractor out of Nebraska, has been going gangbusters, six days a week, ever since April. Driven exclusively by a narrow focus on the national security implications of the border fence project, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff waived over 33 environmental laws in April of this year—to fast track the construction of the border fence in the San Diego sector. Many argue that this represents not only an abuse of the Executive Branch’s constitutional authority, but amounts to a big land-grab by the federal government. At least 100 acres of San Diego county land and California State land, dedicated for public use, have now been condemned for exclusive federal government use.

Decades of knowledge and expertise of our environmentalists and scientific community members have been disregarded, and the local community has not been consulted throughout this process. To date, DHS has refused to submit their final construction plans for congressional oversight or release these plans for outside review or public scrutiny. The result is a misguided effort to grade, flatten and fill in canyons to create a “fence corridor,” a swath of 150-300 feet of no-man’s land, a massive 20-foot wall of smooth concrete cylindrical pylons, topped by metal mesh, lined with a 40-foot-wide vehicle access road lined with decomposed granite to facilitate tactical surveillance by border patrol. Three million cubic yards of dirt has been excavated and used to fill deep canyons to create a road with around a 10 percent grade all along the 4.5 miles from San Ysidro the beach.

The project is one of the largest public-works projects in recent San Diego history, and San Diego city and county agencies will bear the costs for years to come. The scale and future costs of this project to our region demand far more public attention.

— JILL HOLSLIN

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