BORDER FENCE
Denis Poroy  /  AP file
The fence along the U.S./Mexico border runs into the Pacific Ocean in Imperial Beach, Calif., Oct. 14, 2003. The Department of Homeland Security wants to lengthen a second fence by 3½ miles into the ocean  but environmentalists say it will destroy canyons and harm an estuary that is home to endangered species.
updated 2/19/2004 10:32:06 AM ET 2004-02-19T15:32:06

California regulators denied a Department of Homeland Security request to fortify the westernmost stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border, setting the stage for a possible legal battle between the state and the Bush administration.

The California Coastal Commission on Wednesday found that the harm the project would cause to sensitive habitats outweighed security benefits provided by filling in canyons and erecting additional fences along the final 3½ miles of the border before it meets the ocean.

“The operation might succeed, but the patient might die,” Commissioner John S. Woolley said.

The U.S. Border Patrol insisted the fortifications were needed to deter illegal border crossers and protect its agents. They said they planned to challenge the commission’s ruling.

The ruling could delay plans to start construction next year on the final phase of the $58 million fencing project. Nine miles have already been fenced.

If the two sides can’t reach a compromise, the issue is likely to land in federal court, officials said. The U.S. government, however, holds a trump card: Under federal law governing coastal management, the president has the power to override an unfavorable court ruling.

Much of the environmental concern stems from the Border Patrol’s plans to fill a deep, half-mile long canyon known as “Smuggler’s Gulch,” with 2.1 million cubic yards of dirt, enough to fill 300,000 dump trucks.

The Coastal Commission said filling the canyon would erode soil near a federally protected estuary that is a refuge for threatened and endangered birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also opposed filling in Smuggler’s Gulch.

The agency’s apprehensions fell to 16,000 last year, a decline of 88 percent since the federal government launched a crackdown in 1994, erecting fences, adding patrols and installing lights and motion sensors. Steep, unimproved roads were responsible for the death of three San Diego-based Border Patrol agents over the past two years.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments