Heavy rains erode, wash away river bank beneath private border wall; More severe weather forecast

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MISSION, Texas (Border Report) — Recent heavy rains have raised the level of the Rio Grande dangerously high, causing the shoreline near a controversial 3-mile stretch of private border to erode and recede into the water.

Border Report took a two-hour tour of the river on Monday evening and saw cracks in the soil foundation, and sand and rocks are spilling into the river at numerous spots along the banks by the private border wall south of Mission, Texas. In some places, palm trees are now entirely in the water, which is getting perilously close to the base of the private border wall.

More heavy storms are predicted overnight through Thursday and could bring upwards of 7 to 9 inches of rain in parts of Hidalgo County. This could significantly increase the threat to this privately funded galvanized steel wall that Fisher Industries built in January 2020, and that is the subject of multiple lawsuits by the federal government and the North American Butterfly Association, the parent company of the National Butterfly Center, which has riverfront property near the private border wall.

Soil erosion is seen May 17, 2021 after heavy rains in a section of the 3-mile stretch of private border wall built south of Mission, Texas, on the banks of the Rio Grande. More rain is expected overnight. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

The lawsuits claim the $42 million structure was built without permission by the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission, which oversees all river property, and that it violates a 1970 international water treaty with Mexico. The government has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the commission against Fisher Industries.

The Butterfly Association has filed a civil defamation lawsuit against We Build The Wall, which crowdsourced to raise millions of dollars for the private wall built on private lands that once were sugar cane fields.

The cases are pending in federal court, and during a May 5 hearing in McAllen, Texas, the government announced it is hiring a private third-party firm to determine if the structure violates the treaty.

Marianna Treviño-Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center, and her husband, Matt Crocker, examine riverbank erosion at a privately funded border wall from their pontoon boat on the Rio Grande on May 17, 2021, south of Mission, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Marianna Treviño-Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center, and her husband, Matt Crocker, took Border Report on the river tour in their pontoon boat. They said they wanted to show how vulnerable the area is to flooding, and their concerns that the 18-foot-tall galvanized steel structure could come tumbling down into the river the United States shares with Mexico.

During the tour, red stakes could be seen placed on the riverbanks, which Treviño-Wright said indicate that engineers hired by the government are beginning to examine the riverbank. Also visible are seedling trees Fisher Industries promised to plant on the riverbanks after they stripped the shoreline bare and graded it on a five-to-one golf course-like slope.

However, instead of a gradual slope into the river, now there are giant chunks of soil that have broken off, and scarping is evident in several places.

Treviño-Wright and Crocker seemed visibly shocked by the sudden deterioration of the shoreline, which they said had eroded even more since their last boat trip on Saturday evening after 9 inches of rain fell in the region.

“It used to be a slope, now from where the rocks are it just drops off,” Treviño-Wright said of small gray stones that have been placed at the base of the wall atop sand and concrete to help level out the soil. Nevertheless, the stones are cascading into the water, and rivets are seen in the soil leading downward.

“You can see the rocks are lower here that’s because it’s all just dropping. All the sand is just washing away,” said Crocker, an IT specialist. “The grass, the clay, you can see the holes.”

Thick sugar cane fields are seen on Jan. 15, 2020, where they were cut to make way for a private border wall in Mission, Texas. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

On Saturday, after severe rains, the pair said they witnessed a mudflow into a section of the Rio Grande, which they believe came from piping installed to help reduce land runoff and instead filtered mud into the river.

The area where retama and huisache trees used to thrive amidst a tangle of thick carrizo cane and bamboo, is now broken mud and sand and weeds and grass that was seeded but has not taken in many parts.

In court, Tommy Fisher, CEO of North Dakota-based Fisher Industries, has testified his company has planted 500 seedling trees and will maintain the shoreline. But on Monday,  Treviño-Wright shook her head at the area and said it is barren of natural barriers and very vulnerable to flooding, especially in this curvy peninsular section of the river.

ABOVE: Crews hired by Fisher Industries are seen on Jan. 15, 2020, installing 40-foot wide sections of the 18-foot-tall galvanized steel private border wall south of Mission. Texas. BELOW: Video of Tommy Fisher, CEO of Fisher Industries, on Jan. 15, 2020, as crews slope and finish work on a 3-mile private border wall. (Border Report File Photos/Sandra Sanchez)

Fisher gave Border Report multiple tours of the property — which used to be sugar cane farming lands — as he was building the border wall. And he boasted that the galvanized steel would not rust, and was dust-free. He also said it would be sturdy and stand for 125 years.

During a Jan. 15, 2020, tour, as his crews were nearing completion of the wall, Fishers escorted Border Report along the westernmost edge of the wall line, which then had a shoreline about 35 feet wide — big enough to drive an 18-wheel truck through.

On Monday, however, the area only had a few feet of soil before it dropped off into the river.

“It’s gone. The beach is disappearing,” Treviño-Wright said.

LEFT: The graded shoreline is seen on Jan. 15, 2020, as the private border wall was being built south of Mission, Texas. RIGHT: The shoreline shows scarping and drops off into the Rio Grande on May 17, 2021, after recent heavy rains. (Border Report Photos/Sandra Sanchez)

In addition, small creeks could be seen forming at the base of the wall and Treviño-Wright said she fears that the Rio Grande “is cutting a new bank,” and that could “undercut the foundation of this wall that’s only about 2.5-feet deep.”

“With a big rain, all that’s going to come sliding down,” she said.

“You can see the field is higher than this so it’s obviously going to go downhill,” Crocker added.

A Border Patrol agent sits by the banks of the Rio Grande on May 17, 2021, just west of the end of the 3-mile stretch of private border wall. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

An old refrigerator was wedged in the bank of the shore on one section. A plastic raft — the kind used to ferry migrants across the river — was seen in another, along with trash here and there.

“So much for keeping this part of the river clean,” Treviño-Wright scoffed.

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