Engineers Predict Trump's Privately-Built Border Wall Is Bound to Collapse

Just months after President Donald Trump's three-mile section of border wall was built along the shores of the Rio Grande, new engineering reports say the project is already at risk of collapsing.

The privately commissioned wall began construction over Memorial Day weekend last year. In December, operations were halted by an order from a Hidalgo County judge after the National Butterfly Center argued the project would create flooding risks. In early January, a federal judge allowed North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gavel to resume construction.

Two reports, first obtained and reported on by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune and commissioned by the National Butterfly Conservatory, indicate that sections of the three-mile fence is at risk of overturning due to erosion.

"The geography at the wall's construction location in comparison to the river bend is not at a favorable location for long-term performance," one report from the Millennium Engineers Group concluded.

The Texas-based group said that while the border wall was currently stable, soil erosion and construction deficients will lead to cracking concrete and enormous gaps near its foundation.

A second report from environmental engineer Mark Tompkins also cited widespread erosion as the key reason for the border wall's expected impending demise. He said that heavy rain or "extreme high flow events" will cause the the wall to collapse.

"When extreme flow events, laden with sediment and debris, completely undermine the foundation of the fence and create a flow path under the fence or cause a segment of the fence to topple into the river, unpredictable and damaging hydraulics will occur," Tompkins said in an affidavit to be filed in court.

Rio Grande Border Wall
A family from El Salvador is pictured walking to turn themselves into Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande to claim asylum in El Paso, Texas on March 19, 2019. New reports indicate that the wall is at risk of collapsing in just months after its construction due to soil erosion and heavy rainfall. Paul Ratje/AFP

The Rio Grande fence built by North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gavel was paid in large by private donors from We Build the Wall.

The nonprofit raised more than $25 million — funds which have been the subject of a federal investigation. Four members of the organization, including former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, have been accused of draining the money into their own account to pay for their personal lavish lifestyles.

Engineers who reviewed the reports on behalf of ProPublica and The Tribune also expressed concern that the foundation of the privately-built wall is in danger of buckling due to construction flaws.

Fisher Sand and Gavel's president Tommy Fisher, who agreed to the inspection as part of a lawsuit filed against his company by the National Butterfly Center and the International Boundary and Water Commission, has called the project the "Lamborghini" of border walls.

"It seems like they are cutting corners everywhere," Alex Mayer, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso, told ProPublica. "It's not a Lamborghini, it's a $500 used car."

Fisher has defended the fence's engineering plans, telling Bannon on his podcast that the wall is "working unbelievably well. There's a little erosion maintenance we have to maintain."

But other experts who talked to ProPublica and The Tribune argue that Fisher's proposed solutions are insufficient to maintain the structure of the wall.

Geomorphologist and professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Adriana E. Martinez told the publications that Fisher's fixes are "almost like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound."

The Trump administration has awarded $2 billion in federal contracts to Fisher Industries since construction of the Rio Grande fence began.

However, Trump has since attempted to distance himself from the project.

"I know nothing about the project, other than I didn't like — when I read about it, I didn't like it. I said, 'This is for government. This isn't for private people'," Trump told reporters at the White House on August 20.

The Trump administration also hired Fisher to build a half-mile segment outside of El Paso, Texas and handed out another billion-dollar contract to the company in May for additional stretches of the wall in Arizona.