Trump Pushes to Paint Border Wall
According to United States Customs and Border Protection officials, the Trump administration is considering having more than 80 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border wall painted black.
The potentially 82-mile-long stretch of wall is located in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo, Texas.
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 section of border wall gates in the Rio Grande Valley sector, with several million in border wall contracts being awarded for work elsewhere. 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.
In July, over a week after a federal judge blocked the Trump administration from using $2.5 billion in funding for the border wall, CBP and the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $33 million contract for four miles of border wall work in Texas. Environmental regulations for that section of structure were also waived. August also saw the award of another $305 million in contracts.
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.
By December, the project saw additional 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.
That same month, a federal judge blocked the Trump administration from transferring $3.6 billion in Pentagon funds for new border wall barriers when it attempted to commander funds for the border wall that had already been authorized by Congress for other purposes.
The following month, 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.
However, it was announced later in January that Trump was gearing up to divert $7.2 billion of military funds to use for barrier construction in the U.S.-Mexico border wall project. To break down where the funds will come from, the President intended to use $3.5 billion from counternarcotic programs and $3.7 billion intended for construction projects.
In June, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Trump wouldn’t be permitted to divert $2.5 billion of military funds to the construction of the wall, as the action was considered an attempt by the president to skirt Congress.
Even though the funds were transferred under a declaration of national emergency, Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas penned the ruling, proclaiming that the action was a violation of the Appropriations Clause and therefore considered “unlawful.”
Despite the ruling on funding, the July 2019 stay granted by the Supreme Court allows construction to continue on the wall.
Most recently, last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed a lower court’s dismissal of House of Democrats’ lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s authority to use Defense Department funds for construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
The appeals panel—made up of Senior Circuit judges David B. Sentelle, Patricia Millett and Robert Wilkins—cited that the House had been cut out of its “constitutionally indispensable legislative role” when Trump unilaterally moved roughly $8 billion to border wall construction.
Starting back in May, the Trump Administration held a border wall project meeting at the White House regarding the potential design change. At the time of the meeting, Trump officially gave senior adviser Jared Kushner and associated aides the order to seek cost estimates for coating the border wall.
CBP is considering painting more than 80 miles of border wall black, a move in line with President Donald Trump's push to paint barriers that could cost tens of millions of dollars extra ... latest w/ @priscialva https://t.co/lnQjTERWzf— Geneva Sands (@Geneva_Sands) October 6, 2020
Reportedly, Trump insisted 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 claimed 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.
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 is in regards the coating job's cheapest reported option: The application of two coats of black acrylic paint 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.
While Trump has previously voiced his desire to paint border wall barriers, the administration is now considering the coating of up to 82 miles of border wall in Texas.
Earlier this year, U.S. Customers and Border Protection officials were reported to be testing the black coating along some sections of the U.S.-Mexico border in an effort to assess the operational benefits.
Previously, Trump pushed for the black coating as a means to enhance the infrastructure’s “forbidding appearance” and heat properties, ultimately discouraging climbers, however, now CBP officials say the coatings are being considered as a means to provide contrast against the landscape.
Additionally, the project has also been reported to have existing contracts with the option in the contract to paint if decided upon.
Agency officials told CNN an epoxy coating is being considered for when future barriers are built and could cost the project an extra $1 million per mile.
The administration is currently pressing forward with its goal to build 450 miles of border wall by the end of this year. According to CBP officials, that goal is on track with most of the work involving the replacement of old, dilapidated wall with a new system. Construction crews are reportedly building between 10 and 12 miles of border wall per week.