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Border Fence Condemnation Cases Remain An Obstacle

By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer

McALLEN, Texas (AP) – A federal judge has put off giving the U.S. Department of Homeland Security possession of land for the border fence in South Texas for the second time in less than a month.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ordered the federal government to provide more detailed information to three landowners in Hidalgo and Starr counties Tuesday and tell him by Sept. 10 whether they have reached an agreement or remain at loggerheads.

Hanen made a similar order for more than a dozen cases in Cameron County on July 31.

“How can they (property owners) evaluate, for instance, if they want to cooperate if they don’t know where the fence is going to go?” Hanen said. “I think before you take anyone’s property they have a right to know what you’re taking.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Hu had argued that the government was not required to provide final surveys before gaining possession of land. The government had requested immediate possession for three of the four cases heard Tuesday.

In some cases, government lawyers have only provided preliminary surveys of the land they need to condemn for the border fence. In other cases, their maps differ.

Depending on which government map lawyers for Retama Manor look at, the border fence will either run through the middle of the nursing home in Rio Grande City or within 10 feet of it, said attorney Dan Worthington.

“They will lose a view of the river and gain a view of an 18-foot fence,” Worthington said.

A lawyer for the city of Roma expressed a concern about the access city workers would have to a pump that draws water from the Rio Grande.

Once the government provides more detailed information to property owners, it appears Hanen will grant possession of the land in question. The question of how much the government will pay for it will be worked out later. Hanen set a trial schedule for four cases discussed Tuesday that made Aug. 11, 2009, the final pre-trial hearing date.

Hanen also asked both sides to file briefs in November on the question of letting juries determine the value of the condemned properties versus setting up a special commission to make value recommendations on all of the cases. The government prefers a commission and the landowners want juries.

The government is trying to have 670 miles of pedestrian and vehicle barriers built along the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of the year. The only work under way in South Texas involves two segments of a combined levee-border wall in Hidalgo County.

Construction costs are running so high that Homeland Security extended the completion deadline to March 31 for another segment in Hidalgo County, hoping to save money by spreading out the work.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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