A little-known North Dakota construction firm that was awarded the single largest border wall contract–after its CEO effusively praised the president in a slew of conservative media appearances--is now defending its product as experts warn the structure is in danger of collapsing, ProPublica and the Texas Tribune reported Thursday.
Several experts interviewed for the report said poor planning and shoddy engineering have left the wall “in danger of falling into the Rio Grande.”
The company, Fisher Sand & Gravel (FSG), in May won a record-high $1.3 billion government contract to erect a portion of President Donald Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, despite FSG’s prototype being rejected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for lacking in both “quality” and “sophistication.”
As previously reported by Law&Crime, President Trump directly inserted himself into the process for evaluating and awarding government construction contracts, lobbying on behalf of FSG and the firm’s CEO Tommy Fisher. Fisher, who has made a number of Fox News guest appearances, reportedly sold Trump on his company by playing to his impatience with the lack of progress on his signature campaign promise, telling the president he could build the wall faster and cheaper than other contractors bidding on the project. Fisher has since described his design as the “Lamborghini” of walls.
To illustrate the quality and speed at which FSG could construct its proposed wall, the company in January partnered with “We Build the Wall,” a right-wing non-profit group associated with Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach dedicated to privately funding sections of the border wall. This was done to erect a 3-mile section of wall along the Rio Grande river. FSG hoped to sell the completed wall to the Department of Homeland Security.
But engineering experts and hydrologists told ProPublica that despite Fisher’s boasts, the wall was built too close to the Rio Grande river and is in serious danger of collapse, as photos show “a series of gashes and gullies” along the base of the structure that have severely weakened the structure’s foundation.
Under FSG’s design, the foundation for the wall’s steel bollards reach only 2.5 feet into the ground, less than one-third as deep as government usually requires. The shallow foundation combined with the rugged riverbank terrain is reportedly a recipe for disaster.
“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,” Alex Mayer told ProPublica. Mayer is a University of Texas at El Paso civil engineer professor who has done research on the Rio Grande basin.
FSG’s attorney Mark Courtois told ProPublica that the erosion was “a normal part of new construction projects like this and does not in any way compromise the fence or associated roadway.” He added that FSG will seek to build drainage ditches to lessen the deterioration.
But experts said that may will not be enough to stave off major problems.
Victor Manjarrez, associate director for University of Texas at El Paso’s Center for Law and Human Behavior, said the notion of building so close to the river was “nuts.”
“You’re going to get all the hydrology problems and not even from a flood, just normal ebb and flow. … If I was the sector chief and built something like that, I’d be in so much trouble.” Manjarrez formerly worked as Border Patrol’s sector chief in the El Paso area along the Rio Grande.
[image via Mario Tama/Getty Images]
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