The “big beautiful wall” Trump has been promising since he hit the campaign trail is a huge step closer to reality. For the past three weeks, construction crews braved 95-degree temps along the Mexican-American frontier to weld steel and pour concrete. Sample panels of wall sections are being built near San Diego as a contest to see which of the eight designs lucky enough to be awarded a contract is best suited to the task of efficient border security.
The Arizona Republic sent reporters out to the construction site on Tuesday, just feet from the border separating San Diego and Tijuana in the Otay mountain foothills.
The competing designers were not allowed to start until September 26 and face an October 26 deadline to have their prototypes ready for inspection. With the pressure on to complete the sample within 30 days, five have been totally completed, a week ahead of schedule, and one has barely begun construction. Cranes and bulldozers are still in choreographed motion to stand concrete panels vertically upright and carefully nudge them into place.
Fisher Sand & Gravel was the first to have their model ready for action. The Tempe, Arizona company was able to complete the prototype “in a matter of days.” Their submission uses a triple set of concrete frames that have an upward slope on the U.S. side for stability but are straight up and down vertical on the Mexico side. It has the bonus feature of a light tan pigment which matches the surrounding desert.
Another Arizona company, KWR Construction, which operates from Sierra Vista, was still digging a foundation on Tuesday afternoon. Their design is the only one not using concrete. KWR is playing it cagey for now. Nobody knows what materials will be used or what their offering will look like. If they get done in time, it will show theirs is fast and easy to build.
Four of the structures are made entirely of reinforced concrete. The other three use a combination of concrete and other materials.
All but one of the designs tower to an impressive 30 feet, putting the current obstruction to shame. At the end of the Vietnam war, sheet metal “landing mats” were stood on edge along the fence line to supplement the omnipresent chain link.
Officials are extremely happy to see such tall ramparts and say they will send a clear message to illegals, “stay away.” Division chief of the local border patrol sector, Mario Villareal, explains, “The 30 feet is very impressive. What we’re trying to accomplish by putting tactical infrastructure on the border, by having all-weather roads, by putting Border Patrol agents on the immediate border is the deterrence.”
The most colorful specimen comes from a company in Maryland. Bright blue steel panels extend from a concrete base. A similar but not as colorful entry comes from Alabama. It starts with a wide concrete base at ground level to support a thinner frame.
As ideas were kicked around in Washington, features like solar power were suggested. At least one model is equipped with solar panels.
One of the biggest design differences was the choice of solid or see-through. Originally suggested by the Border Patrol after consultation, designs were suggested so that agents could watch what was happening on the other side. That would be a tremendous help but also not without risks.
Agent Theron Francisco relates, “It’s good to be able to see through the south side. We can see them, they can see us but in a way, it can be negative because we’re always being watched. They always can see us. It goes both ways.” The Alabama company submitted one of these, as a second entry, that uses finely spaced metal bars on the lower half. The top is the favored material, concrete.
The next step will be to see how each of the designs stands up in action. The “test and evaluation” phase will be examined closely to see how good they are at keeping people out. Criteria are preventing the ability to climb over, under, or make a hole in them. After the tests, elements may be picked from more than one of the models for the final version. “That is something that not only CBP will be looking at, but our engineers, is what is the best utility along the Southwest border?” Villareal points out.
Each of the eight variations was awarded a contract to build a sample section for testing, with prices ranging from $320,000 to $480,000 depending on the design. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is footing the bill. Funding has already been allocated to pay all six companies that were given contracts.
Funding for extending the wall all along the southern border is still hung up in Congress. Word is that President Trump is trying to get the funds appropriated by tacking it on as part of a “dreamer” package.
The Alt-right may have to resort to the tactic used back in 2006 when they were still called “the Tea Party.” Thousands of bricks were mailed to Senate and House offices as a way to make a point. In about a month, over 10,000 bricks sporting messages like “No Amnesty” and “Stop the Invasion” landed on Congress. The government mail room had to shut down when 2,000 individually wrapped bricks showed up at once. “We received them and we delivered them to all the addressees,” The Senate sergeant-at-arms” fumed.
One Democrat senator’s spokesman took it with a sense of humor, “given the approval ratings of Congress these days, I guess we should all be grateful the bricks are coming through the mail, not the window.”
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