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Flooding washes away section of U.S. border fence

August 17, 2011 |  3:00 pm

Border fence arizona sonora mexico

Forty feet of U.S.-built fence along the border with Mexico have been washed away after flooding in Arizona, prompting I-told-you-so responses from border residents who said the fencing damaged the local ecosystem and would be prone to flooding.

The section of the fence that collapsed sits along the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, near the tiny port town of Lukeville in southwestern Arizona, and came down during heavy rainfall Aug. 7. Plans are underway to rebuild the damaged section, but other details were not immediately available, said Jenny Burke, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security.

"We've made operational adjustments to make sure [the area] is constantly monitored for any illicit cross-border activity," Burke told La Plaza on Wednesday. 

A news report on the Mexican side of the fence collapse showed photos of the fallen wall and said U.S. Border Patrol agents were "permanently guarding" the area (link in Spanish). Damage to streets and homes was also reported in the small village of Adolfo Lopez Mateos near Sonoyta in Sonora state (link in Spanish).

The fence, built in 2007 and 2008, was constructed without enough room for water and debris to naturally flow beneath it, the national monument's superintendent told the Arizona Daily Star. The criticism echoed concerns raised by conservationists when the plan was approved in late 2007 with a $21.3-million contract for a Kiewit construction subcontractor.

The border wall in the area essentially operated as a dam and burst with an overload of rainwater.

"The fence acts as a dam and forms a gradual waterfall," Superintendent Lee Baiza told the paper. "It starts to pile up on the bottom as the grass, the leaves, the limbs start plugging up. The water starts backing up and going higher. The higher it gets, the more force it has behind it."

Warning signs appeared in the area almost as soon as the fence went up. The international port of entry and private businesses in Lukeville flooded during rain in July 2008 because of debris buildup along the border wall, prompting a federal lawsuit, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

One conservationist said last week: "Now we know who's right."

The border wall has been controversial and problematic since Congress passed the Secure Fence Act in 2006, as The Times has found in stories on topics as diverse as the dangers the fence poses to wildlife, and Texas homes and farmland "stranded" on the wrong side of the fence in and around Brownsville.

Late last month, Homeland Security announced a $24.4-million contract for maintenance and repairs for the border fence in Arizona, reports said. The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument website has photos of the fence here

-- Daniel Hernandez in San Diego

Photo: A section of the U.S. border fence with Mexico damaged during rainfall near Lukeville, Ariz. Credit: Defrente.com.mx

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