A request to purchase a slice of birding property in Starr County turned into a legal battle leaving a nonprofit facing the possibility of a long, expensive dispute.

“This is what we were afraid of,” said Debralee Garcia-Rodriguez, Valley Land Fund executive director. “We were afraid that they were going to file suit and try to take our property away.”

Initially, the nonprofit’s board of directors agreed to sell the Salineño land; but, after a yearlong negotiation, they reversed their decision in mid-November. The government warned they’d resort to legal measures.

On Dec. 15, the government filed a civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in McAllen to condemn and take 0.7 acres of the riverside property. In return, the government would be compensating the owners with $10,398.

The Valley Land Fund’s mission is “protecting, preserving, and enhancing the native habitat of the Rio Grande Valley and with that comes along protection of wildlife,” Garcia-Rodriguez said. They’re entering litigation just as birders started to arrive.

“We have anywhere from 3,500 to over 5,000 in any given season of birding, and that typically starts from November through March,” Garcia-Rodriguez said.

The 2.6-acre property attracts people from across the country and outside of the U.S.

The government is seeking to take a rectangular piece of property closest to the Rio Grande. It would connect with other segments running alongside the Valley Land Fund.

The Rio Grande is seen through a fence on the Camargo International Bridge in 2012 in Rio Grande City. (Nathan Lambrecht | The Monitor)

Valley Land Fund is seeking donations of any size to help cover attorney fees. “We’re really trying to rally the community in hopes that we can get some support for that,” Garcia-Rodriguez said. 

While border wall construction lawsuits can be lengthy, the nonprofit is looking to the new administration for change.

“Now we just need to hold on and have hope that the incoming administration will … not go back on what they’ve promised land owners in hopes that we can continue saving this piece of property,” Garcia-Rodriguez said.

An initial conference on this case is scheduled for March.