National Park Service and US Border Patrol to Share a New Operations Center at Lake Amistad National Recreation Area

Amistad Reservoir was created on the Rio Grande River in 1969. That’s Mexico on the left (south) side of the river. Wikipedia Commons photo.

The leased building that currently serves as the Visitor Information Center for the Amistad National Recreation Area is too small and too old for the park’s needs. Fortunately, that old visitor center and other inadequate structures will be vacated after a new 30,000 square-foot multipurpose building is completed on the site of the current NPS equipment/vehicle “bone yard” nine miles north of Del Rio along the access road to the Diablo East marina.

What’s really interesting about the new $15 million building is that 4,500 square feet of the space under roof will be occupied by the U.S. Border Patrol, which will pay about $2.5 million of the construction cost.

This is the first time the two agencies have joined forces to construct and share a major operations center like this. If things work out as intended, this precedent will have major long term implications for interagency cooperation here and elsewhere along the border.

Both agencies stand to gain a lot from the arrangement. The Park Service and the Border Patrol’s Lake Task Force now operate from substandard or temporary buildings scattered in the Del Rio and Lake Amistad vicinity, so consolidating operations in a spacious, purpose-designed building is a major plus.

The new facility’s location will be a big advantage, too. It overlooks Lake Amistad (International Amistad Reservoir) from a vantage point that offers shorter travel distances and quicker response time for rangers and Border Patrol agents alike. The Border Patrol’s Lake Task Force has to keep a watchful eye on 18 watery miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. The Park Service has to tend to facilities oriented to America’s share of the 65,000-acre lake formed by a lengthy dam on the Rio Grande River.

This is a big job, too, for this is a very busy park (1.7 million visitors in 2007) that has experienced big attendance increases. The 408,000 visitors tallied in June was nearly double last year’s count for the same month.

Nearly all of Amistad’s currently scattered facilities will be relocated to the new “joint operations facility”. This includes, in addition to the aforementioned visitor center, the park’s headquarters, museum collections storage, maintenance functions, buoy shop, plumbing and electrical shops, and equipment and supplies storage.

Park Superintendent Alan Cox says that the new operations center is the number one construction project in the Park Service's Intermountain Region for next year. Allowing for routine budgetary and construction delays, he expects that the Amistad staff and the Border Patrol Lake Task Force will be able to move into their new digs by the end of 2010.