Agreement reached over border fence on U Texas campus

Published 7 August 2008

Part of the U.S.-Mexico border fence would have cut across the campus of the University of Texas-Brownsville/Texas Southmost College; the university and DHS reached a compromise — but the university must finish building its proposed border protection solution by the end of the year

The University of Texas-Brownsville/Texas Southmost College must begin its plans to enhance an existing perimeter fence almost immediately, according to an agreement filed Tuesday between the university and DHS. In federal court last week, the government dropped its plans to build a border fence across the school’s campus. Instead, the two parties agreed to heighten existing fencing and add sensors and three cameras to the chain-link barrier. According to UTB/TSC’s negotiations manager for the project, Michael Putegnat, the university proposed the ambitious timeline. “They are based upon the university’s confidence from its record of on-time, under-budget construction successes,” he said. UTB/TSC has already begun “pre-construction tasks,” according to Putegnat.

The written agreement between the university and DHS outlines a timeline for the enhancements, as well as requirements for what the document calls the “UTB-TSC pedestrian fencing system.” The system must incorporate “anti-climb, anti-tunnel, and anti-perching features, as well as convey an image of impenetrability.” The 6- to 8-foot fence must be heightened to 10 feet. The description in the written agreement seems somewhat different from what UTB/TSC president Juliet Garcia described as a potentially “friendly fence.” Putegnat said that “Essentially, it will look something like a baseball field backstop fencel. The chain link is a bit tighter, though. There will be no concertina nor barbed wire on its top.”

After last week’s court hearing, Garcia said she envisioned the fence “with bougainvillea and vine growing all over it.” The agreement does allow the university to add “architectural or aesthetic elements” as long as the fence’s operational effectiveness is not impaired. UTB/TSC has until 15 August to issue requests for proposals and until Sept. 15 to award all contracts. The fence must be completed before 31 December. Tuesday’s agreement marks a victory of sorts for UTB/TSC. Homeland Security initially told the university an 18-foot fence would bisect the campus, likely cutting off access to the Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course. The U.S. Border Patrol could increase the number of patrol agents on UTB/TSC’s campus by as much as 5 percent. Border Patrol also reserves the right to determine whether the fencing system satisfies its operational requirements. On Tuesday, the Texas Southmost College Board convened a special meeting to approve the settlement agreement. A university committee met Wednesday evening to decide on a final fence design.