State continues negotiating with landowners to construct more portions of Texas border wall

Securing the land rights to build Texas’ portion of a border wall is proving to be a tedious and daunting process according to officials with the Texas Facilities Commission. The comments came during a Jan. 4 TFC meeting when another border wall construction contract was awarded.

According to TFC officials, the plan is to build 40 to 45 miles of wall in areas along the border deemed critical by the Texas Department of Public Safety. The state legislature authorized a total of $900,000,000 for the project, along with $55,000,000 in private donations.

During the recent TFC meeting, deputy executive director John Raff told commissioners they are in the process of negotiating for 239 easements and 548 parcels of land.

“It’s a huge effort, requiring lots of resources to go out and contact these people [to] do the outreach,” Raff said during the meeting.

Commissioners have previously said securing easements is a tedious, 14-step process that can take months to complete.

“Those are the easements currently being negotiated, that is not a total count by any means,” Commissioner Brian Bailey added to Raff’s comments.

In December 2021, Texas began construction of a 1.7-mile stretch of wall in Starr County. This was on land already owned by the Texas General Land Office.

Last month, Texas began construction on another 1.5-mile portion of the wall in Cameron County.

“Our biggest obstacle that we faced is negotiation with the land owners,” Bailey said. “We’re dealing with literally thousands of property owners.”

Bailey also pointed out Texas is unique from other states when it comes to building on the border.

“Unlike Arizona, unlike New Mexico, unlike California, where you have a federal government easement that runs along the border, we are dealing with private land owners through Spanish land grants, and it is just a maze that I never anticipated,” Bailey said.

TFC Chairman Steven Alvis later assured commissioners every possible effort was being made to secure these easements.

“They really almost quadrupled the number of landmen working on land right-of-way. It’s become such an emergency for our state,” Alvis said during the meeting.

Following the meeting, KPRC 2 Investigates asked TFC officials exactly how many easements had been secured to date.

“Not every easement is identical and may represent various tracts [distance]. The number of easements shifts as we work to align the defined ‘Priority Areas.’ Twenty-three easements have now been recorded. We actively work to close more easements daily. We may need several hundred easements to complete 40 to 45 miles,” TFC spokesperson Francoise Luca wrote in an email.

During the Jan. 4 meeting commissioners also approved another $224,000,000 border wall construction contract to the Fisher Sand and Gravel Company. Raff told commissioners this contract involved building 9.43 miles of wall in Webb County, with an additional 4.33 miles of wall.

Border Crisis: Texas negotiates with landowners to build more segments of state-funded border wall

KPRC 2 Investigates filed a Texas Public Information Act request for a list of all land owners the TFC is negotiating with, and where in the process they are with the negations.

The TFC declined to release the information, arguing it is confidential and asked the Texas Attorney General’s Office to make a ruling on the issue.

On Oct. 21, KPRC 2 received a letter from the AG’s office reading the TFC may withhold the requested information because “release of this information would damage the commission’s planning and negotiating position with respect to the acquisition of the easements needed for the project at issue.”

About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”