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Fisher Awarded $1.28B Border Wall Contract

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

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At the beginning of the month, the United States Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $1.28 billion U.S.-Mexico border wall project in Southern Arizona to Fisher Sand and Gravel Company.

According to reports, the company is favored by President Donald J. Trump.

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

At the beginning of the month, the United States Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $1.28 billion U.S.-Mexico border wall project in Southern Arizona to Fisher Sand and Gravel Company.

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 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 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.

A few months later 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, 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.

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.

However, the 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.

In the middle of May, 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.

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 making the order, Trump specifically named Fisher 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.

What’s Happening Now

On May 6, the Corps awarded Fisher for the construction of 42 miles of border wall. The contract was awarded through a competitive process involving previously short-listed contractors.

Specifically, the bulk of the project will start near Nogales, Arizona, and will run west for 38 miles along the Coronado National Forest and Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge until it reaches the eastern boundary of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The average cost per mile for the project is $30 million, roughly $10 million per mile than the average for most of the border walls built in Southern Arizona.

“While there may be similarities between projects, each project cost is contingent upon its unique characteristics, such as geotechnical, topographical, hydrological and hydraulic, underground utilities, final real estate access, and the cost of materials and labor,” said Corps spokesperson Jay Field.

According to, Tommy Fisher, head of Fisher Sand and Gravel, previously led a wide-ranging campaign to persuade Trump and federal officials to award wall contracts to his company. In his efforts, Fisher paid lobbyists $145,000 to discuss the border wall with lawmakers.

Fisher had also invited Corps officials to watch his crews build a privately funded border wall.

However, in December, the company underwent scrutiny by the Pentagon's inspector general shortly after being awarded a $400 million contract to build 31 miles of border wall on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge southwest of Tucson.

The public affairs office of the inspector general reports that an audit of the contract is still ongoing.

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. Reports claim that roughly 180 miles worth of border walls have been constructed since Trump took office.

In total, roughly $3.1 billion of Defense Department funds have been awarded for Tucson-based border wall projects.


Tagged categories: Contract awards; Contractors; Contracts; Government; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; President Trump; Program/Project Management; Project Management; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

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