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What would it actually take to build a wall on the border between the US and Mexico? CNN’s Jason Carroll reports.
Prototypes on display.
The eight 30′ X 30′ panels have been standing since October 2017 “like giant tombstones” in a no-man’s land just east of San Diego, the steel and concrete panels at times a glaring spectacle.
Artists projected light shows on the walls from Mexico, with one message reading “Refugees Welcome Here” next to an image of the Statue of Liberty and another showing a silhouette jumping on a trampoline with a caption that read, “Use in Case of Wall.” Demonstrators craned their necks for a view when Trump toured the prototypes 11 months ago.
Public access to the prototypes was blocked from the San Diego side, turning an impoverished Tijuana neighborhood into a popular spot for journalists, anti-wall demonstrators and curious observers. People climbed piles of trash against a short border fence that has since been replaced to get a clear view from Mexico.Associated Press
The nearly $3 billion that Congress has provided for barriers during the first half of Trump’s term requires that money be spent on designs that were in place before May 2017, effectively prohibiting the prototypes from being used and denying Trump bragging rights to say he built his wall. It’s unclear if the restriction would apply to the billions of dollars that Trump wants to spend by declaring a national emergency on the nation’s southern border, which the House of Representatives voted this week to block.
The eight prototypes, which cost $300,000 to $500,000 each to build, vary by slopes, thickness and curves. Bidding guidelines called from them to withstand at least an hour of punishment from a sledgehammer, pickaxe, torch, chisel or battery-operated tools and to prevent use of climbing aids such as grappling hooks.
The guidelines also required they be “aesthetically pleasing” from the U.S. side. One had two shades of blue with white trim. The others were gray, tan or brown — in sync with the desert.AP
After the Department of Homeland Security reallocated $20 million of its own budget to pay for the eight prototypes along with other “smaller mock-ups,” one month after Trump took office in February 2017, open-bidding began with ideas that ranged from “whimsical or far-fetched” to one bidder wanting to build one big enough to allow tourists “scenic views of the desert.”
Soon the government began its ‘rigorous’ testing, details that were mostly keep secret by the CBP who deemed them “law-enforcement sensitive” as they conducted a series of military-grade field tests, according to AZ Central reporting at that time.
CBP outlined the requirements in two lengthy calls for submission, which netted hundreds of interested companies. But a USA TODAY Network review of submitted inquiries found many of the bidders were confused by the specifications and by shifting deadlines in the fast-paced process.
The agency selected six companies to start building eight prototypes in October — four made of concrete and four with alternate materials. By December, CBP began a series of tests analyzing five categories: breaching, scaling, constructability, engineering design and aesthetics.
But by July 2018, the Government Accountability Office’s summary was released describing the prototypes “posed “extensive” construction challenges and the others posed “substantial” or “moderate” challenges. Six of the eight would require extensive changes to accommodate drainage,” according to AZ Central.
[T]he test results detailed in the report renewed concerns from critics and analysts about the speed of the process, as well as questions about how the government is using taxpayer money.
That same Government Accountability Office report had already generated concerns when it pointed out that costs for the construction of future barriers could be much higher than projected. The document said Customs and Border Protection had not taken into account certain factors such as terrain and land ownership in its costs estimates.
In a statement, CBP said the report was being misrepresented. Officials reiterated their assertion that, based on their experience, walls work.
The Associated Press reported that on February 27 those eight prototypes of Trump’s proposed border wall which stood between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico were demolished as “a large hydraulic jackhammer pounded the concrete and steel panels until the slabs fell into small clouds of dust.”
“A jackhammer reduced prototypes of President Donald Trump’s prized border wall into piles of rubble Wednesday, a quick ending to an experiment that turned into a spectacle at times.”
The four concrete and four steel panels, spaced closely together steps from an existing barrier separating San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, instantly became powerful symbols associated with the president and one of his top priorities when they went up 16 months ago.
For Trump’s allies, the towering models were a show of his commitment to border security and making good on a core campaign promise. For detractors, they were monuments to wasted taxpayer dollars and a misguided display of aggression toward Mexico and immigrants seeking a new home in the United States.
Within about two hours, a hydraulic jackhammer on an excavator leveled seven prototypes. Concrete slabs crashed in small clouds of dust, steel panels were knocked over, and an owl flew out of a steel tube atop one panel just before it thundered down. The last prototype standing took a little more time to destroy.
U.S. officials say elements of the prototypes have been melded into current border fence designs and they were no longer needed.
According to Border Patrol Spokesman Ross Wilkin the panels “were tested and evaluated…They’re not required anymore. It’s time for them to go.”
A Customs and Border Protection report, first reported by KPBS of San Diego, showed that each prototype could be breached using several different techniques but the heavily redacted version that was made public did not say how long it took.
Ross Wilkin, a Border Patrol spokesman, noted that authorities never claimed the prototypes would be impenetrable and that they simply wanted to know how much time it took to crack each one.
The appeal to private industry for ideas was a new approach to building barriers and provided many lessons to guide construction, he said. Authorities learned that certain materials were unsuitable for quick repairs and that combining different surfaces, like bollards topped by plates, were more effective.
The new barrier replaces a steel-mesh fence that runs more than 12 miles (19 kilometers) from the Pacific Ocean, which worked like a fortress when it was built a decade ago but is now regularly breached with powerful battery-operated saws recently made available in home improvement stores. It will then extend another mile or so over the prototype site. SLSCO Ltd. of Galveston, Texas, won the $101 million contract in December and started work last week.
Work on replacing the first-layer barrier, also with steel bollards and metal plates up to 30 feet high, runs the same length as the second layer and is nearly finished.
A birds-eye view of the US-Mexico border which is nearly 2,000 miles long and has 700 miles of fence running along it.