Private WALL Might Stand Forever, Might Fall Into Rio Grande, Who Knows?
When Donald Trump's WALL project started hitting snags because Congress didn't want to fund it, some very smart, only slightly grifty-seeming patriots came forward to fund the entire WALL with donations, which isn't even how government construction projects work. Eventually, the
grifters patriots formed a proper nonprofit, We Build The Wall, and collected millions of dollars to build WALL that wouldn't actually be part of Trump's project at all. In May of 2019, the group put up an impressive half-mile of WALL in New Mexico a bit outside El Paso, Texas, with nothing on either end of it, so there's a slim chance some undocumented immigrants might just go around it. More recently, last fall, a rapidly constructed three-mile stretch of bollard fencing was tossed up right next to the Rio Grande near Mission, Texas, constructed partly with We Build the Wall funds by longtime wannabe WALL contractor Tommy Fisher.
It's a marvel of engineering, built to last forever or at least until the next really big flood hits the area, as ProPublica details in another of those reports that leaves you shaking your head and snort-laughing at just how stupid (gestures around at EVERYTHING) all this is.
Fisher, you may recall, is the North Dakota contractor who went on Fox News a million times to promote his construction company, which mostly built highways, and to suck up to Trump. The Washington Post even put together a highlight reel.
How a CEO's repeated appearances in conservative media might get him the border wall contract youtu.be
Sadly, Fisher wasn't able to win a WALL contract, because the Army Corps of Engineers didn't like how his bids relied so much on popsicle sticks, the kind that don't even have clever little jokes printed on them. Fortunately, he kept going on Fox, and he gave money to North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer, who went for bat for him. And since Trump never stopped talking about Fisher, the guy he saw on TV, eventually the Army Corps thought about it a little more and last December decided Fisher was just the guy to get a big $400 million contract to build some WALL through an Arizona wildlife refuge. Then in May, Fisher got an even bigger contract, $1.3 billion to build another 42 miles of WALL, the biggest single WALL contract yet.
But this story isn't about that wall, it's about the three miles of wall Fisher put up on private land right at the edge of the Rio Grande, which ProPublica and its partner for this report, the Texas Tribune, say is in danger of falling down due to rapid erosion along the construction site. According to several hydrologists and engineers who looked at photos of the wall and other documents, the thing never should have been built where it is.
Just months after going up, they said, photos reveal a series of gashes and gullies at various points along the structure where rainwater runoff has scoured the sandy loam beneath the foundation.
"When the river rises, it will likely attack those areas where the foundation is exposed, further weakening support of the fence and potentially causing portions ... to fall into the Rio Grande," said Alex Mayer, a civil engineer professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who has done research in the Rio Grande basin.
As we've come to expect from ProPublica, the piece is full of information that just leaves you wondering how any of this bullshit happened. For starters, there's the location, a thumb of Rio Grande shoreline about a mile away from where the Army Corps will be building a longer stretch of real WALL, only far enough from the river that it won't wash away:
Brian Kolfage, the genius patriot pitchman behind We Build the Wall, says this chunk of WALL is so great precisely because "The best engineers in the world designed this for floods, not government employees." Because what do government "experts" know about engineering, or anything, really?
Kolfage has a real talent for mobilizing his supporters to a cause. When his and Fisher's first section of WALL went up in Sunland Park, New Mexico, last May, the town told them to knock it off, because they hadn't bothered getting a permit. Kolfage riled up the Online Rage Mob:
"So Sunland Park officials support open borders, the sex slaves and illegal drugs coming into their communities?" Kolfage responded on Twitter, and he directed followers to "burn up the phone lines."
Sunland Park Mayor Javier Perea said he received several death threats and thousands of messages, some telling him to watch his back and that opposition to the wall is equivalent to treason. "I will support legislation to that effect," one email read. "I would attend the hangings."
Perea said it could have been worked out without all the "chaos and controversy," but he also recognized that the group's intention was to make noise and fundraise off the fake outrage. Ultimately, the permits got issued, and that wall now stands to repel any invaders who don't notice it's just a half-mile long. As long as they don't look to the left or the right, Mission Accomplished.
Fisher's operation right on the Rio Grande's riverbanks also met with opposition. In Mission, the National Butterfly Center wildlife refuge and the La Lomita church, a mission built in 1899, have been fighting the federal government's WALL plans, and weren't too keen on the potential impact of the private WALL on the river's flow, either. A government agency, the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), which regulates construction along the Rio Grande, also sued to halt construction until Fischer's company submitted a complete engineering study that detailed how the construction might affect the river and nearby properties. The Rio Grande is the international boundary, so that's kind of a big deal.
The response from The WALLbois was exactly what you'd expect: Kolfage tweeted that the wildlife refuge and the church
were "promoting trafficking of children," and that the butterfly center was home to a "rampant sex trade."
The center's executive director Marianna Treviño-Wright also received death threats. One irate Facebook user told her, "You need to all be in jail or hanged."
And Fisher's company submitted an "engineering study" that was all of six pages long, "with basic drawings that lacked necessary details," and went right ahead digging trenches and scraping off vegetation that prevented erosion on the river banks.
But despite the opposition, a judge gave the go-ahead for the WALL, and it went up lickety split. By March of this year, Kolfage released a VERY DRAMATIC video celebrating the completion of the structure, complete with clips of Donald Trump being tough, action-movie music, and cool views of the immense wall that will end crime and surely stand forever. For three miles, on one bend of the river.
History Made Once Again and this time It's BIG youtu.be
Problem is, the hydrologists and engineers who ProPublica and the Texas Tribune asked to look at a study prepared by the IBWC, the six-pager from Fisher, testimony from the court case, and other details of the wall agreed that the design of Fisher's bollard fence is bollocks. It's only a matter of time until it will need major repairs, because it's just not very solidly built.
Unlike the bollard fences that the government builds 6 to 7 feet into the ground, Fisher's wall has roughly a 2 1/2-foot foundation that stretches 8 feet wide. During court testimony, Greg Gentsch, the project's engineer, downplayed the impact of wind on the fence's shallow foundation and said he was confident that the footing design was appropriate for the area.
"To me, that was the biggest mistake they made," said Joseph Jarvis, an engineer who worked on border wall segments 12 years ago. "While they focused on the velocity of the water that would go through the bollards, the bigger problem is the water that runs parallel (to the fence), that's the one that's going to erode the dirt that's supporting the foundation."
Another expert, civil engineer Amy Patrick, who has served as an expert witness in court cases, agreed on the general caca-doodiness of Fisher's design:
"They are relying on a very shallow foundation to prevent overturning and then not taking care to ensure the bank on the Rio Grande side of the fence does not erode," said Patrick, who has questioned the engineering viability of border walls generally along the southern border.
But don't worry! Fisher and his company are on top of all of this!
Fisher dismissed the concerns. A company attorney, Mark Courtois, called the erosion "a normal part of new construction projects like this and does not in any way compromise the fence or associated roadway." The company will seek to build drainage ditches to lessen the deterioration, he added. Neither Courtois nor Fisher responded to additional questions made through Courtois' office.
The company also said it had reseeded the river banks, so that should maybe stop the erosion, although Fischer hasn't actually delivered a maintenance plan to the IBWC or to Javier Peña, the attorney for the Butterfly Center. The plans were requested in April, but Fisher has packed up and headed to Arizona to get to work on that lucrative US government WALL project. Peña didn't seem to have very high expectations that the boondoggle in Mission would be maintained: "They built the wall and left. [...] They got their donations, their government contract and they left us."
Well of course they did. They have an America to save!
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