McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Members of an anti-border wall group are in Eagle Pass, Texas, to speak out against the state’s new marine buoy barrier, and to protest the overtaking of a public park for construction of the buoys, which they say is not legal.
Tricia Cortez, a co-founder of the Laredo-based No Border Wall Coalition told Border Report that several members kayaked the Rio Grande on Tuesday morning to see the new 1,000-foot-long strip of marine buoys, which are anchored to the riverbed with concrete.
Afterward, she described the buoys as “strange-looking” and she feared dangerous to wildlife and obstructive to those trying to enjoy the international weather.
“Millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent to bring them here, install them, stage them, and it looks so silly, because it is a long stretch of big buoys with these razor-sharp like round, circular saw looking teeth in between each one. And they seem to be anchored by these blocks of cement. But in the end, it’s unclear how effective that is. They don’t seem effective in the slightest bit,” said Cortez, who is executive director of the Rio Grande International Study Center, a nonprofit based in Laredo, Texas, which studies the Rio Grande.
Members of the No Border Wall Coalition from Laredo and Eagle Pass on Tuesday afternoon plan to hold a news conference ahead of a city council meeting where elected officials are planning to discuss recent action by the city’s mayor to convert a public park located on the river into “private land” to allow Texas Department of Public Safety officials to implement the state’s criminal trespass statute to prevent border crossings.
Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas Jr., last week signed a criminal trespass affidavit that gave the Texas Department of Public Safety permission to enter Shelby Park and to issue criminal trespass arrests.
Cortez says that no other city councilmembers were consulted prior to Salinas’ action.
Shelby Park is a decades-old public park on the banks of the Rio Grande near the downtown district and just north of the Eagle Pass International Bridge I, which leads to Piedras Negras, Mexico.
It is an area where Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in June announced the state would erect the marine barrier that Texas DPS turned into a regional headquarters outpost as part of the state’s Operation Lone Star border security initiative.
Border Report visited the area in June with Maverick County Sheriff’s Deputy Jesus Sanchez, who was denied access to the park and marina area and told permission to enter would need to be given by DPS officials in Weslaco, Texas, and reporters would have to be escorted into the area by DPS.
Cortez says the owner of a kayaking tour company had to submit days ago the names of those planning to paddle the river for permission to enter Shelby Park.
The city council plans to take up the issue in executive session at Tuesday’s meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. CST. Possible action includes “authorizing administration and/or city legal counsel to affirm, rescind, terminate, modify, and/or renegotiate the terms,” according to an online agenda of the meeting.
“What mayor of a city does that to a public park without consulting the city council without any sort of vote or forum or town hall? I think that’s an extraordinary action to take and there are a lot of legal questions around that,” Cortez said. “The people of Eagle Pass are trying to get to the bottom of this and they’re asking the city council to vote that the affidavit was and is void because of the way in which it was done where the mayor essentially in one signature converted a public city park into private property and listed himself as the sole custodian of that property.”
The Department of Justice last month filed a lawsuit against the state’s flotation barrier, alleging it violates the Rivers and Harbor Act, as it obstructs the “navigable capacity” of U.S. water.
Lawsuits also have been filed by private business owners in Eagle Pass challenging the state’s authority to erect the marine barrier in the international river.
“The Rio Grande is under great distress by the State of Texas’ unilateral decisions to bulldoze existing islands on the river to convert into border security posts, with installation of military concertina wire along a two-mile path along the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass,” said Jessie Fuentes, who owns Epi’s Canoes and Kayak Team LLC, and who filed a lawsuit against the marine barrier last month. “I have chosen to speak and represent the river as its advocate to protect it for current and future generations of people, wildlife, and fauna who depend on it.”
On Tuesday, the Texas Border Coalition denounced the marine buoy and asked the governor to remove it. The group, which represents over 2.8 million border residents from Brownsville to El Paso, called on President Joe Biden and Abbott to work together and find collaborative solutions to address the challenges faced by border communities. They also asked the Department of Justice to withdraw its lawsuit against the marine barrier.
On Monday, El Paso County Commissioners voted to send letters to Washington and Austin decrying Texas’ treatment of migrants and opposing the marine buoy barrier.
“While our border communities are among the safest in the country, these conflicts between authorities only serve to disrupt progress,” El Paso County Commissioner and TBC Chairman David Stout said. “We believe that cooperation between federal and state authorities is essential in achieving smart and effective border management.”