Category Archives: environment

Privately built border wall will fail, engineering report says

The 3-mile border fence along the shore of the Rio Grande will fail during extreme flooding, according to an engineering report that is set to be filed in federal court this week. Credit: Brenda Bazán for The Texas Tribune.

It’s not a matter of if a privately built border fence along the shores of the Rio Grande will fail, it’s a matter of when, according to a new engineering report on the troubled project.

The report is one of two new studies set to be filed in federal court this week that found numerous deficiencies in the 3-mile border fence, built this year by North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel. The reports confirm earlier reporting from ProPublica and The Texas Tribune, which found that segments of the structure were in danger of overturning due to extensive erosion if not fixed and properly maintained. Fisher dismissed the concerns as normal post-construction issues.

Donations that paid for part of the border fence are at the heart of an indictment against members of the We Build the Wall nonprofit, which raised more than $25 million to help President Donald Trump build a border wall.

Former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, We Build the Wall founder Brian Kolfage and two others connected to the organization are accused of siphoning donor money to pay off personal debt and fund lavish lifestyles. All four, who face up to 20 years in prison on each of the two counts they face, have pleaded not guilty, and Bannon has called the charges a plot to stop border wall construction.

We Build the Wall, whose executive board is made up of influential immigration hard-liners like Bannon, Kris Kobach and Tom Tancredo, contributed $1.5 million of the cost of the $42 million private border fence project south of Mission, Texas.

Last year, the nonprofit also hired Fisher to build a half-mile fence segment in Sunland Park, New Mexico, outside El Paso.

Company president Tommy Fisher, a frequent guest on Fox News, had called the Rio Grande fence the “Lamborghini” of border walls and bragged that his company’s methods could help Trump reach his Election Day goal of about 500 new miles of barriers along the southern border.

Instead, one engineer who reviewed the two reports on behalf of ProPublica and The Texas Tribune likened Fisher’s fence to a used Toyota Yaris.

Continue reading at The Texas Tribune.

A Privately Funded Border Wall Was Already at Risk of Collapsing if Not Fixed. Hurricane Hanna Made It Worse.

This private border wall was already at risk of falling down if not fixed. A hurricane made things worse. Engineering experts said photos of damage from last weekend’s storms reinforces the idea that building and maintaining a border fence so close to the river poses serious challenges. (James Hord/ProPublica-Texas Tribune)

Intense rain over the weekend from Hurricane Hanna left gaping holes and waist-deep cracks on the banks of the Rio Grande that threaten the long-term stability of a privately funded border fence that is already the focus of lawsuits over its proximity to the river in South Texas.

The damage comes at the start of what is projected to be an active hurricane season, which runs through Nov. 30.

Engineering experts who reviewed photos of the jagged cracks caused by the weekend’s storms said the damage reinforces what many have long said: Building and maintaining a border fence so close to the river poses serious challenges.

ProPublica and The Texas Tribune previously reported that just months after completion, the private fence built by Fisher Industries, a North Dakota-based company, was showing signs of erosion that threatened its stability and could cause it to topple into the river if not fixed.

“It’s going to be a never-ending battle. You are always going to be fighting erosion when you are that close to the river,” said Adriana E. Martinez, a professor and geomorphologist at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who has studied the impact of the border barriers in South Texas.

The 3-mile stretch of bollards along the river south of Mission, Texas, was a showcase project by Fisher Industries’ CEO Tommy Fisher, who put up more than $40 million of his own money to prove to the Trump administration that the private industry could do what the government hadn’t been able to: build the border wall right along the river.

Continue reading at ProPublica.

Trump Says He “Disagreed” With Privately Funded Border Wall, So Why Did His Administration Award the Builder $1.7 Billion in Contracts to Erect More Walls?

President Donald Trump visiting the U.S.-Mexico border along the Rio Grande in January 2019, not far from where a builder backed by his supporters later erected a border wall. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

President Donald Trump complained via Twitter on Sunday that a privately constructed border wall in Texas was a bad idea and poorly done — not mentioning that his administration has awarded the builder a $1.7 billion contract to build more walls.

With the backing of Trump supporters, Tommy Fisher built a 3-mile border fence along the Rio Grande, calling it the “Lamborghini” of fences. But just months after completion of his showcase piece directly on the banks of the river, there are signs of erosion along and under the fence that threatens its stability and could cause it to topple into the river if not fixed, experts told ProPublica and The Texas Tribune.

“I disagreed with doing this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private group which raised money by ads. It was only done to make me look bad, and perhsps it now doesn’t even work. Should have been built like rest of Wall, 500 plus miles,” Trump tweeted with a typo in reaction to the news organizations’ report about the wall.

Trump’s tweet, however, is belied by actions his administration has taken to support the wall’s builder.

Continue reading at ProPublica.

He Built a Privately Funded Border Wall. It’s Already at Risk of Falling Down if Not Fixed.

Erosion has made gashes underneath the wall just months after being built. (Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune/ProPublica)

Tommy Fisher billed his new privately funded border wall as the future of deterrence, a quick-to-build steel fortress that spans 3 miles in one of the busiest Border Patrol sectors.

Unlike a generation of wall builders before him, he said he figured out how to build a structure directly on the banks of the Rio Grande, a risky but potentially game-changing step when it came to the nation’s border wall system.

Fisher has leveraged his self-described “Lamborghini” of walls to win more than $1.7 billion worth of federal contracts in Arizona.

But his showcase piece is showing signs of runoff erosion and, if it’s not fixed, could be in danger of falling into the Rio Grande, according to engineers and hydrologists who reviewed photos of the wall for ProPublica and The Texas Tribune. It never should have been built so close to the river, they say.

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.

Continue reading at ProPublica.

Trump administration scraps clean-water rule aimed at protecting streams, wetlands

Two-year-old Camden Smith points out imaginary alligators to his father, Chris, as the pair walk on a boardwalk Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, at the Pine Brook South Wetlands park in Clear Lake. The park surrounds a “prairie pothole,” a unique form of wetland that has enjoyed expanded protections under Obama administration-era clean water rules. Photo: Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

The Trump administration has finalized a clean-water rule that it says strikes a balance between protecting the environment and the economy, but critics say the change will put Houstonians at greater risk for flooding and threaten the drinking water for more than 11.5 million Texans.

The rule announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eliminates Clean Water Act protections for up to half of the nation’s wetlands and one-fifth of the streams across the country under a narrower interpretation of which waterways qualify for federal protection.

“EPA and the Army are providing much needed regulatory certainty and predictability for American farmers, landowners and businesses to support the economy and accelerate critical infrastructure projects,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told a gathering of home builders in Las Vegas.

Court challenges had led to the Obama-era rule being put on hold in Texas and 27 other states. Still, Anna Farrell-Sherman, a clean water associate with Environment Texas, said the return to less-stringent rules will leave waterways from Barton Creek to Galveston Bay vulnerable to pollution and degradation.

“As unprotected wetlands become degraded or paved over, they will no longer help filter out pollution before it reaches our streams, springs, rivers and aquifers,” she said. “Galveston Bay is already facing dangerous oil spills and pollution from industry along the coast; degrading the streams and wetlands around it will only make that problem worse.”

The shift comes five years after the Obama administration expanded federal clean-water protections to smaller streams and wetlands, including intermittent streams and underground water passages. It was a move meant to bring uniformity, but instead led to several lawsuits, including one by Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana along with a coalition of farm and industry groups that called it federal overreach and overly broad.

The Trump administration’s final version — four months after it announced the repeal of the rule — represents a major rollback of the Clean Water Act, enacted in 1972. The change will have a major impact on southwestern states, allowing landowners and developers to potentially dump pollutants, including pesticides and fertilizers, into those waterways or fill in wetlands for construction projects.

Continue reading at the Houston Chronicle.