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Judges Orders Inspection on Border Wall Segment

Thursday, July 16, 2020

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Months after a privately funded section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall was completed, the 3.5-mile structure is showing signs of erosion.

The $42 million segment, built by Fisher Industries, is in danger of falling into the Rio Grande River, according to some engineers, and last week a U.S. District Judge ordered that details of an inspection and fix be provided.

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.

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 sections of border wall gates in the Rio Grande Valley sector, with several million in border wall contracts being awarded for work elsewhere.

In January 2019, a report revealed that all eight border wall prototypes, inspected by President Donald J. Trump in March 2018, were susceptible to breaching. Photos of the damage were not included in the redacted version of the February 2018 U.S. Customs and Border Protection report.

Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Katie Waldman noted that the steel bollard design was based on “the operational requirements of the United States Border Patrol,” adding that the design had been refined over a decade of use. Though the steel bollard fence currently under construction was guided by what was learned from the prototypes, it does not replicate the other designs.

In 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.

However, 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 wall. Shortly after, the Pentagon released a list of the projects that have been financially deferred.

And in January, Trump announced another plan to divert $7.2 billion—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. 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, though, a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package was reported to no longer allow the transfer of funds to border wall efforts.

Most recently, at the end of June, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Trump cannot divert $2.5 billion of military funds to the construction of the wall. That ruling was the latest roadblock in funding the work.

What Now

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane is overseeing a lawsuit brought by the federal government and the National Butterfly Center over the construction of that part of the fence and its potential threat to the Rio Grande.

In addition to environmental concerns, the International Boundary and Water Commission also alleges that the structure violates a treaty with Mexico because it is deflecting too much water during floods.

Crane ordered attorneys in the case to work out the details of an inspection, which Fisher only recently agreed to.

According to a joint investigation by the Texas Tribune and ProPublica, the visible erosion of the 18-foot-tall structure is threatening its stability.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Paxton Warner, representing the International Boundary and Water Commission, told Crane that four areas of erosion have been identified.

Fisher Industries’ attorney, Mark Courtois, has said that the erosion is “normal,” but ultimately agreed to have it inspected.

"What we anticipate is some sort of agreement where we continue to maintain it going forward," Courtois told the court. "If there are issues that come up, we'll address it."

Entities had tried to stop this portion of the wall from being built initially, but Crane, who had presided over that as well, ruled that the project could proceed despite not completing hydraulic models and the warning that the structure was being erected too close to the river.

This isn’t the first time that a newly built portion of the wall’s stability has been called into question.

In late January, border patrol officers reported that a section of the wall in Calexico, California, had fallen over into the Mexico side after experiencing high winds.

According to the U.S. National Weather Service, at the time of the partial collapse, wind gusts were reported to be over 30 mph. The section of affected wall was roughly 130 feet long and 30 feet high.

According to reports and photographs, blame for the wall’s partial collapse went to the concrete, as the construction material hadn’t cured prior to experiencing the high winds. Although crews staked anchors and attempted to stabilize the structure while it was swaying, winds eventually pushed the panel over.



Tagged categories: Erosion; Government; Government contracts; Infrastructure; Inspection; Lawsuits; Maintenance + Renovation; NA; North America

Comment from Jerry Trevino, (7/16/2020, 10:40 AM)

I think most people could climb over a Lamborghini.

Comment from Jerry Trevino, (7/16/2020, 10:40 AM)

I think most people could climb over a Lamborghini.

Comment from Russell Spotten, (7/16/2020, 12:33 PM)

I think that a wall which "erodes" after just a few months, and is "in danger of falling", isn't much of a wall.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (7/16/2020, 3:20 PM)

Gee, waive requirements like oversight, inspection, and all environmental requirements (like erosion control) and you get erosion and other project deficiencies. Not exactly a surprising outcome.

Comment from Walter C. White, (8/18/2020, 1:35 PM)

Easy answer : Skyhooks. Painters been using them for years!

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