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Estimates Sought to Coat Border Wall

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

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The Trump Administration recently hosted a border wall project meeting at the White House regarding a possible design change.

According to reports, President Donald J. Trump has officially given the order to senior adviser Jared Kushner and associated aides to seek cost estimates for coating the United States-Mexico border.

Border Wall Saga

In September 2017, the first border wall contracts were awarded to four different companies to develop prototypes that would work in conjunction with the border in the San Diego area. U.S. special forces spent weeks attempting to breach the eight prototype models of the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, which proved to withstand jackhammers, torches and climbing tools.

tzahiV / Getty Images

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump Administration recently hosted a border wall project meeting at the White House regarding a possible design change.

Since then, the government has worked to speed up the project. In October 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that any environmental regulations regarding the construction or repair of a section of the border wall for certain areas in Texas would be waived, drawing ire from environmentalists and private property owners alike. The announcement detailed exemptions in Cameron County; another announcement made the following day detailed similar measures for Hidalgo County.

Through the course of late 2018 and into 2019, construction began on section of border wall gates in the Rio Grande Valley sector, with several million in border wall contracts being awarded for work elsewhere.

In March 2019, North Dakota-based contractor Fisher Sand and Gravel Company claimed that it could build 234 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border wall for $1.4 billion, a fraction of the funding the president requested at the time.

In May, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shortlisted 12 contractors—including Fisher—to bid on construction work sometime during the next five years; the Pentagon moved $1.5 billion to assist with border wall construction; and a previously contested contract, worth $187 million, has been canceled due to the protest.

By mid-2019, a judge blocked the president’s use of money originally intended for military funding, for work on the border wall. The injunction only accounted for roughly $1 billion in funding for the border wall, money that the Department of Defense had funneled away from Army personnel to the Department of Homeland Security.

In September, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper approved $3.6 billion in funding—largely pulled from military construction projects, including housing—to go toward building 175 miles of the border wall. At the end of that same month, Jonathan Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, reported that roughly a mile of border wall is being built every day.

Additionally, in November, Trump allowed for construction to begin on a section of the wall in Texas without customary environmental reviews. December also saw funding stemming from canceled military projects being assigned to three new contracts for the construction of over 30 miles of replacement fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, totaling $316 million in work.

At the beginning of this year, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, based out of New Orleans, ruled 2-1 that a certain set of Department of Defense funding could be used for border wall construction and lifted the injunction. The Washington Post reports that due to this ruling, the president and his administration viewed the matter as an invitation to take money again in 2020.

By the end of the month, Trump announced plans to divert $7.2 billion of military funds—roughly five times what Congress authorized to spend in the 2020 budget from Pentagon funding—for border wall construction. According to the plans, the diverted funds would allow the government to complete an additional 885 miles of new fencing by spring 2022, approximately 376 more miles than the administration had slated for the U.S. border with Mexico.

In February, a waiver made by the Department of Homeland Security's Acting Director Chad Wolf went into effect, surrendering certain procurement laws as to expedite construction on portions of the border wall.

According to reports, companies that are eligible to work under the waiver are those that were shortlisted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers back in May to bid on construction work sometime during the next five years. The contracts are worth up to $5 billion total and will include both design-build and design-bid-build projects.

The following month, Wolf issued several waivers, allowing the Department of Defense to assist with border wall construction, in addition to exempting additional projects from traditional environmental regulations.

The same month, another contract modification worth $524 million was awarded to Southwest Valley Constructors (Albuquerque, New Mexico) for the design build of the Tucson sector barrier wall replacement project in Tucson, Arizona. Work for the project is expected to be completed by Sept. 7.

By the end of March, a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package was reported to no longer allow the transfer of funds to border wall efforts.

However, at the beginning of April, SLSCO (Galveston, Texas) was awarded a $61.4 million contract modification for border wall construction near El Paso, Texas. The deal amends a contract originally awarded in April 2019 and extends the target completion date from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31.

As a response to the continued border wall construction, several Democratic lawmakers penned a letter to the Trump administration, requesting a halt on the various projects as to save resources for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"Of the billions this Administration diverted from the Department of Defense, hundreds of millions were meant for emergency and disaster responses for National Guard units across the country,” read the letter.

"We urge you to stop wasting critical federal resources and putting the lives of the millions who call the border region home at grave risk during this unprecedented health crisis and immediately cease all construction efforts.”

Those requests fell on deaf ears as U.S. Army Corps of Engineers South Pacific Border District announced the award of a $569 million contract modification to BFBC LLC, a subsidiary of Barnard Construction (Bozeman, Montana), for the construction of approximately 17.17 miles of border wall in San Diego and El Centro, California, at the end of April.

Work for the modified contract is expected to be complete by June 30, while previous barrier endeavors are slated to wrap up by Jan. 31, 2021.

Thus far, construction for the border wall project has obtained roughly $15 billion, with two-thirds of coming from Defense Department construction funds and counternarcotic programs. The funds are expected to cover approximately 731 miles of new barriers but doesn’t take into account the cost for coating the barrier.

Nearly 500 miles of the border wall is slated to be completed by November, with 75 new linear miles having been added since the beginning of the year.

Coating the Wall

While the design change has been discussed in the past, Trump is again pushing to have the U.S.-Mexico border wall painted black.

Reportedly, Trump  insists that the dark color will enhance the border wall’s “forbidding appearance” and will make the steel too hot to touch during summer months, discouraging climbers.

In researching cost estimates, Trump has specifically named Fisher Sand and Gravel to provide input on the matter and hopes a solution will be reached for either a “flat black” or “matte black” coating because of its heat-absorbent properties. According to current government contracting estimates, the design change could inflate costs by $500 million or more.

However, Rick Duncan, a materials engineer who specializes in rooftop coatings claims that painting the infrastructure black would only increase its ability to retain heat by less than 10%, a number that would decrease as the paint began to fade from exposure.

“It won’t make much of a difference,” Duncan said. “There’s no technical reason to paint it to make it hotter.”

As reported by The Washington Post, coating the border wall was previously left out of the original U.S. Customs and Border Protection design specifications due to the president’s fluctuation on the matter, in addition to military commanders and border officials expressing that a coatings application was unnecessary, costly and would require long-term maintenance.

Currently, the border is being constructed using weather-resistant steel, which is slated to have a 30-year service life, despite exposure to intense solar radiation and extreme temperature changes. However, those same elements are reported to quickly oxidize the metal into an orange hue, creating an issue for painters. Other potential issues for the project include coating sections that have already been set in concrete and how crews would paint the Mexico side of the border with limited space.

Another potential issue regards the coating job's cheapest reported option: the application of two coats of black acrylic paint, which is slated to cost $1.2 million per mile if completed by private contractors. According to reports, acrylic paint would be impossible to color-match and would clearly reveal welds, patches and other forms of scarring in the infrastructure.

Other, more expensive options for the potential painting project as suggested by government estimates include a military-grade epoxy coating known as System 21. While the midrange coating is reported to be highly resistant to abrasion, rust and is amenable to welding, the minimum cost per mile is $4.5 million. The most expensive coating option—slated to cost $6.8 million per mile to apply—would involve applying a black powder coating system.

Regarding the possible project, attorneys for Fisher did not respond to requests for comment made by reporting agencies. No definite decision on coating the border wall has been made at this time.


Tagged categories: Acrylic; Construction; Contractors; Contracts; Cost-savings; Design; Epoxy; Government; Government contracts; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; President Trump; Program/Project Management; Project Management

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/13/2020, 10:45 AM)

After some ageing, weathering steel gets pretty dark on its own.

Comment from Tony Rangus, (5/13/2020, 11:51 AM)

Pork barrel at its best. Give it time and I bet there will be enough graffiti and gang signs to coat 99.9%.

Comment from Fred Zoepfl, (5/16/2020, 12:48 PM)

"Paint It Black:"

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