First TX Border Wall Section Nears Completion

THURSDAY, APRIL 28, 2022


According to state officials, the first segment of five for the state-funded border wall in Texas is “essentially” complete with all panels installed. The 1.7-mile segment in Starr County still needs some work completed, including electrical outfitting and building access roads, Texas Facilities Commission Executive Director Mike Novak told TFC commissioners.

The section is the first being built of eight miles of wall, with $162 million in state funding being paid by taxpayer funds and donated funds, according to the state’s contracts.

Project Saga Background

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. At the time, 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.

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.

However, at the beginning of 2019, reports revealed that all eight border wall prototypes were susceptible to breaching. According to NBC News, testing conducted by the Department of Homeland Security showed that all prototypes, including the steel slat design, were vulnerable to damage from easily accessible tools. For example, the steel slat prototype could be cut through with a saw.

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, the CBP and the U.S. 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, former 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, former assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, reported that roughly a mile of border wall is being built every day.

By December 2019, 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.

In June 2020, 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 allowed construction to continue on the wall.

And in October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed a lower court’s dismissal of House Democrats’ lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s authority to use Defense Department funds for construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. In a 3-0 decision, the appeals court issued a decision permitting Democrats in Congress to challenge Trump’s use of military funds for the construction of the border wall.

That same month, United States Customs and Border Protection officials reported that the Trump Administration was considering having more than 80 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border wall located in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo, Texas, painted black. Agency officials told CNN an epoxy coating was being considered for when future barriers are built and could cost the project an extra $1 million per mile.

In December, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals approved the Trump administration’s plan in a 2-1 decision to divert $3.6 billion in funding from more than 100 military construction projects for border wall construction. The decision overturned the lower court’s decision made by U.S. District Judge David Briones in 2019.

Biden’s proclamation from January 2021 redirected the funds and paused the construction, but did not shut down the project. Despite federal court rulings and Biden's proclamation, Texas lawmakers have pushed to continue construction of the border wall. In June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a $250 million down payment for construction of hundreds of miles of border wall just months after Republican House Rep. Bryan Slaton introduced House Bill No. 2862.

In August, the Texas Department of Transportation announced that it was set to pay nearly $25 million for the construction of a roughly two-mile-long concrete border barrier. Slated to be constructed in Eagle Pass, the project also calls for a temporary fence near the right-of-way along State Loop 480, which the Department of Public Safety has reported to be a high-traffic area for immigration.

By the end of the month, the Texas House was reported to approve nearly $2 billion for the Texas-Mexico border wall project. The approval of funding is expected to triple the state's allocation for border security during the last biennium.

And in September, the Texas Facilities Commission announced that they had completed the evaluation phase for the Program Manager for the border wall. In reviewing the competing contractors for the project, the Commission stated that they would be recommending the joint venture of Dallas engineering firm Huitt-Zollars and Pittsburgh-based engineering firm Michael Baker International.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, co-lead with Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, filed a lawsuit in November against the Biden Administration for halting construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. According to the lawsuit, Congress has refused to spend funding appropriated in the 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act for construction of the wall.

TX Border Wall Update

At the end of last month, it was reported that the 1.7-mile segment was a tenth of a mile short of completion on lands west of La Grulla, Texas. The wall was reportedly being built with 30-foot-tall bollards that were surplus from the federal government’s border wall construction program.

Texas used big rigs to haul the 1,700 metal wall segments from California in early February, reports the TFC, who began oversight of the project in June. The Federal Surplus Program, offered through the General Services Administration, offers goods to state and local municipalities that request it as long as they fund transportation costs.

According to reports, Novak told commissioners last week that the segment was “essentially complete” now that all the panels were installed. The project is reportedly progressing as plan, despite challenges like navigating the land acquisition process across the state. 

“We’ve done it by the book,” Novak told commissioners, adding that they’ve “crossed every T and dotted every I.”

The other four sections of the project, which will also be design-build contracts, are reportedly still in the planning and bidding phase. The next section will be capped at $185 million, with each remaining section with a total of $515 million.

As of April 13, over $55 million in funding has come from donations. $750 million also stems from the state’s $2 billion state funding bill, which aims to protect border security in Texas.

“In June, I promised Texans that we would step up in the federal government's absence and build our own border wall,” said Gov. Abbott when he visited the site in December. “We have wasted no time in the six months since that promise was made, and I am proud to announce that construction of the Texas border wall is now underway.

“Today not only represents the first phase of the Texas border wall, but it also serves as a major milestone in our efforts to combat illegal immigration, stop the smuggling of drugs and people, and keep our communities safe.”

   

Tagged categories: Construction; Design build; Funding; Government; Government contracts; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; President Biden; President Trump; Program/Project Management

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