SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Trump administration on Tuesday waived environmental laws and other reviews to replace a small stretch of border wall in Calexico, California, the second time it has exercised that authority in less than two months.
Critics said the move was an overreach and a threat to the environment.
The waiver extends 3 miles (5 kilometers) west from the downtown border crossing in the city of 40,000 people, according to a notice in the Federal Register.
The Department of Homeland Security will replace an airstrip landing-mat style fence about 14 feet (4.3 meters) high with a bollard-style fence up to 25 feet (7.6 meters) high.
Elaine Duke, the acting Homeland Security secretary, said replacing fence in the area was one of the highest priorities for border security. The government plans to award a contract in November and begin construction in February.
It marks the seventh time the government has waived environmental reviews under a 2005 law. That law exempts the government from the National Environmental Protection Act, which calls for extensive reviews of environmental impacts, and a host of other laws.
Last month, Homeland Security waived reviews for a 15-mile (24-kilometer) stretch in San Diego.
The Center for Biological Diversity has challenged the San Diego waiver in federal court, arguing that the law doesn't apply to replacing barriers. The lawsuit also seeks to block plans to build prototypes in San Diego for what President Donald Trump has called "a big, beautiful wall" with Mexico.
Brian Segee, an attorney for the environmental advocacy group, said the latest waiver was unconstitutional but he was undecided whether to include it in his lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, a target of Trump's enduring scorn over lawsuits that alleged fraud at the president's now-defunct Trump University.
"The Trump administration is willing to ignore the law and destroy the environment in its rush to build a destructive, divisive wall that no one else wants," Segee said.
Homeland Security said it has made significant gains in the Border Patrol's El Centro, California, sector, which includes Calexico, but more needs to be done. The Border Patrol made 19,448 arrests during the last fiscal year — less than 5 percent of the total on the border with Mexico.
Downtown Calexico, located about 120 miles (192 kilometers) east of San Diego, has been one of the more challenging area for Border Patrol agents in the area. People who enter the country illegally often try through the highly polluted New River.