SAN DIEGO (Aug. 4, 2009) -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helped mark the completion of a $59-million border infrastructure project in San Diego County with a July 6 ribbon-cutting ceremony high atop an earthen berm that didn't exist a year ago.

The location was Smuggler's Gulch, named during Prohibition because it was widely used by bootleggers. It remained a notorious route used by gangs to funnel people and illicit narcotics from Tijuana, Mexico, across the U.S. border.

Eric Eldridge, Customs Border Protection program manager for the Los Angeles District, said the district provided construction oversight of the project from award to completion. Construction oversight included the involvement of the District's construction chief John Keever, area engineer Harold Hartman, resident engineer Gregory Schulz and several project engineers and construction representatives throughout the life of the construction project.

Overall project manager was Jason Price from the Engineering and Construction Support Office in the Fort Worth District, which serves as the single point of contact for all Department of Homeland Security projects within the Corps. Eldridge had high praise for the team in place for the construction.

"The whole project was definitely cooperative in nature," Eldridge said. "It involved ECSO, Los Angeles District, CBP, OBP, and others to make this project finally come to fruition. The construction contractor did an outstanding job and produced an incredible product."

The ceremony marked the completion of a 3.5-mile border segment, the latest installment in a planned 14-mile Border Infrastructure System authorized by Congress in 1996 for the westernmost section of the U.S.-Mexico border. That plan called for multiple layers of fencing, lighting, roadways and other support structures that expanded upon earlier border-sealing efforts.

"The men and women under my command conduct the critical border enforcement duties in and around the area where we are seated today," said Josh Gough, Border Patrol agent in charge of the Imperial Beach Station. "Beneath our feet lie years of political capital, real capital, blood, the sweat and the combination of individual hard work and energy in pursuit of American border security."

An earlier program, completed in 1993, constructed 14 miles of primary fence, built from steel aviation landing mat left over from the Vietnam War. That fence had stopped vehicle drive-throughs, but was less successful in stopping smuggling on foot. This urban corridor historically had endured more illegal smuggling activity than any other place in the country.

On June 19, 2008, construction crews began building a 700-foot-long culvert that would soon be buried under 1.3 million cubic yards of earth to create the berm spanning Smuggler's Gulch. It is now topped by a 15-foot secondary Sandia fence and lights. An all-weather patrol road runs on each side of the new fence -- replacing the route up and down switchbacks. Travel time for Border Patrol agents between key points has been reduced from minutes to seconds.

Mike Lowe, area manager for Kiewit Pacific Construction Co., said Smuggler's Gulch was a major engineering challenge for his company.

"We did all of that work in less than 440 calendar days. Many people doubted whether or not we could accomplish that in such a short amount of time," Lowe said. "On any type of successful program you have to have great partners. And on this project we had great partners in the Border Patrol and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."

The Border Patrol honored the many organizations that made it possible with letters of appreciation. Col. Janice Dombi, commander of the South Pacific Division, accepted on behalf of the Corps of Engineers.

"Unless you can look around and see the terrain and see how difficult this project was from the engineering sense, it's hard to really appreciate the work that went into the project by a number of different organizations and the great teamwork that was required in planning this project, which began in the early 90s," she said.

She also thanked the contractors for completing a project of this scope - all without a lost-day accident. "That alone is a tremendous accomplishment."

She specifically singled out a number of people to thank individually. From ECSO, Eric Verwers, Kevin DaVee and Jason Price; from the Los Angeles District, Eric Eldridge, John Keever, Harold Hartman and Greg Schulz; and from current and former members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Loren Flossman, Greg Gephart, Dilip Sheth, Oscar Pena, Mike Hance and Joe Granata.

Brig. Gen. Kevin Ellsworth, of the California National Guard Counterdrug Task Force, thanked the Corps of Engineers team for its "great work and great support."

"This is really a textbook case of applying military capabilities for domestic support and it was a great example of inter-agency operations and cooperation that exists between the civilian sector, government agencies and the military," he said. "I think the bottom line is it's a great example of good government."

Former U.S. Rep. Duncan L. Hunter, a longtime supporter of the fence project, recalled the worst days of this area, some time ago, when there would be mass crossings of individuals and 300 drug trucks a month roaring across the sagebrush full of cocaine and marijuana. He said FBI statistics showed the San Diego County crime rate had fallen 54 percent since the completion of the first major fence.

"And I will predict to you that it will continue to go down to some degree as a result of this great barrier going up," he said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16