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it was a career-ending decision until they told me so last December,” he says. “I thought what I was doing was right. But it was a train wreck waiting to happen!’ Merritt says his boss, Benjamin Tuggle, the southwest regional director at Fish & Wildlife in Albuquerque, explicitly asked him to approve the engineering survey for a fence through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. It was implied through numerous conference calls and a visit from Tuggle that the Bush administration wanted badly to begin building the border fence. A private environmental consulting firm from Colorado, Elm Inc., had won the contract to do surveys for the fence, and needed access to the refuge. The National Environmental Policy Act, however, requires that a wildlife refuge manager answer a series of questions to determine whether construction projectsin this case a border fenceare appropriate and not detrimental to wildlife in the refuge. Merritt’s findings indicated the opposite. “It had no benefit for the refuge and no relationship to why the refuge was established,” Merritt says. He denied permission to perform the survey. Tuggle told him his choice was a “career-ending decision,” Merritt says. “He said some other things, which I won’t go into, but it was pretty ugly!’ On January 3, Merritt retired. Contacted by the Observer, Tuggle denied telling Merritt that his decision would end his career. Merritt, 54, bemoans the politicization of wildlife protection under the Bush administration. He says political appointees with little background in wildlife management or biology have disregarded the agency’s mission, protecting the nation’s natural resources. “I put a lot of time and a lot of thinking into working through this issue on the border fence Merritt says. “And I came to the right conclusion about it, but nothing was done in the end because the waiver wiped everything out.” The waiver in question stems from a provision Congress tucked into the Real ID Act in 2005 that allows the secretary of homeland security to ignore federal law in the name of national security. On April 1, Secretary Michael Chertoff used his authority to waive 36 federal laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Antiquities Act, and the Native American Graves Protection Act. His waiver applies to 470 miles of southern border in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The edict ended public input and interagency discussion on alternatives to the fence. Yet, as Chertoff has admitted, building a fence through Texas’ wildlife refuges, while costly to taxpayers, will do little to solve America’s illegal immigration problems. The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog, has estimated that building and maintaining fence segments along the southern border could cost $49 billion. Last July, Chertoff told CNN’s Late Edition that “fencing has a symbolic value, and it has usefulness in some parts of the border. And we’re going to use it where it is effective. The idea that you are going to solve the problem simply by building a fence is undercut by the fact that yesterday we discovered a tunnel. So the idea that fencing alone is a solution I think is overly simplistic.” Despite complaints from congressional leaders about lack of public input, a class action lawsuit by several Texas border Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva. landowners and cities, and a lawsuit filed in the U.S. Supreme Court by Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club, Chertoff expects private contractors to start building the fence in Texas by July or August. In May, the Army Corps of Engineers began soliciting bids to build three segments of steel fence through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Houstonbased KBR Inc., formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton Co., is one of the companies bidding for the project. Privatization of border security is a hallmark of the Bush administration’s effort to curb illegal immigration. At a January 2006 “Industry Day” in Washington, D.C., Deputy Director of Homeland Security Michael Jackson told more than 400 defense contractors, “We’re asking you, we’re inviting you to tell us how to run our organization.” Jackson, a former Lockheed Martin Corp. vice president, added, “This is an invitation to be a little bit aggressive, thinking as if you were owner and you were partIn 2006, Boeing Co. won a multibillion-dollar contract to build and maintain “technology and tactical infrastructure projects” along the northern and southern borders. A Government Accountability Office report released in February indicated the contract runs for three years, with three one-year extension options. The GAO has repeatedly recommended that Homeland Security place a spending cap on the contract, to no avail. Homeland Security’s Secure Border Initiative office, whose responsibility it is to oversee the Boeing contract and several JUNE 27, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21