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Reports Reaffirm Border Wall Erosion Concerns

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

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Two new engineering reports are further questioning the structural integrity of a section of border wall along the Rio Grande River in Mission, Texas.

The section of wall is associated with a lawsuit brought by the North American Butterfly Association against Fisher Sand and Gravel, the nonprofit We Build the Wall and the owner of the property.

The engineering reports were court-mandated.

Rio Grande History

In July, months after the privately funded section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall was completed, the 3.5-mile structure began showing signs of erosion.

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.

Crane ordered that details of an inspection and fix be provided for the $42 million segment, to which Fisher agreed.

According to an initial 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.

What Now

Two different reports (both of which were funded by NABA) found that the 18-foot-high bollard fence could fail during a “high flow event” from the river.

Mark Tompkins, an environmental engineer, said in his report that widespread erosion had occurred after heavy rain events, which didn’t even see an actual floor of the Rio Grande.

“Fisher Industries’ private bollard fence will fail during extreme high flow events,” concluded Tompkins, who specializes in river management.

A second report, based on a geotechnical and structural inspection by Millennium Engineers Group, found that, while the wall portion is stable for now, it faces several issues including erosion and concrete cracking.

The second report also claims that the riverside concrete foundation, as well as pour strips, were poured without the use of formwork.

Fisher’s maintenance plan for this portion of the wall includes quarterly inspections as well as additional inspections after large storms. The company said that it would plant grasses and add a layer of rocks to lessen the erosion. This plan is also coming under fire in the lawsuit.

In the filing, NABA argues: "Builder Defendants claim that they can single-handedly build a border wall faster than the government and at a fraction of the price. …They fail to mention that they can build it faster and cheaper because they do not (1) get approvals for their plans, (2) comply with any laws regarding construction or (3) conduct any studies to ensure that they will not cause more harm than good."

Fisher President, Tommy Fisher, declined a request to comment on the reports from the Texas Tribune, saying that he hadn’t yet reviewed them. However, he did tell the publication that his company fixed all the erosion and added a 10-foot-wide road made of rock.

Fisher has also said in previous interviews that the wall is “working unbelievably well.”

Both reports have been added to the lawsuit, which is ongoing.



Tagged categories: Erosion; Government; Government contracts; Infrastructure; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Program/Project Management

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