Hidalgo County officials push Biden administration for levee fix

Concerned with existing levee breaches as the start of the hurricane season approaches, Hidalgo County commissioners signed a resolution Tuesday asking the Biden administration to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild them.

“The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court calls on the Biden Administration to temporarily lift its border wall construction ban and order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to direct contractors to rebuild the levees to an equal-to or better-than preconstruction state so as to mitigate the danger of flooding to our community,” the resolution stated.

The concerns were initially raised in mid-April by Hidalgo County Precinct 3 Commissioner Everardo “Ever” Villarreal in a news conference.

Parts of the levee protecting Hidalgo County communities from potential flooding lay exposed after border wall construction was halted by the Biden administration.

Border wall construction under the Trump administration required access to the levee and surrounding property. The International Boundary and Water Commission, or IBWC, an agency that controls the property, approved access to its levees.

The Corps provided design and construction support to execute the Customs and Border Protection border infrastructure program.

After the Biden administration ordered a halt to border wall construction, some levees remained breached and now present a potential danger to people living nearby.

“Structural engineers and other experts in hydrology have indicated such breaches expose several populated areas of Hidalgo County to the potential of dangerous and life-threatening flooding,” the resolution stated.

The IBWC advised the Corps and Custom and Border Protection to “review and update their emergency flood protection plan in addition to the planning of repairing the affected levees,” according to a statement from a public affairs officer.

Bobby Petty, public affairs officer with the Corps, responded in a statement saying USACE is “poised to execute DHS’s direction when received.” He added, “DHS is developing a plan in accordance with the Presidential Proclamation.”

On Tuesday, Hidalgo County Commissioners Court appealed to the Biden administration.

“This is potentially a critical threat to the safety of our community,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez said. “This levee is a vital safety feature to flood-prone areas and we need them to be fixed.”

According to the Hidalgo County public information officer, Hidalgo County officials recently spoke with a representative of the Corps, which is overseeing the border wall construction project.

“The official told Hidalgo County representatives that the Department of Homeland Security would first have to authorize the levees to be fixed, then it would still take months for the restoration to be complete,” a statement by the public information office read.

Hurricane season starts June 1.

The resolution signed Tuesday concluded, “The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court asks the Texas delegation to the United States Congress to impress on the Biden administration the dangers of these levee wall breaches and implore the administration to fill these breaches.”