MISSION, Texas — The problems continue for a border wall constructed by a North Dakota company.
Heavy rains that came with Hurricane Hanna led to rising water in the Rio Grande River and deeper erosion along a wall built by Fisher Industries of Dickinson, N.D. Fisher and the wall have come under scrutiny the past several weeks since a report by the nonprofit investigative website ProPublica revealed erosion along the three-mile stretch of wall built on private land along the U.S.-Mexico border. The erosion threatened the structure's integrity.
One engineer said the wall was in danger of falling into the Rio Grande.
"It's worse. It's much worse," Javier Pena, a lawyer representing the nearby National Butterfly Center that has sued Fisher and other entities to stop construction of the wall, told The Forum on Wednesday, July 29. "You can fit a human being into some of the holes underneath the wall now."
Hurricane Hanna dropped 16 inches of rain in the area, raising the level of the Rio Grande about 8 feet, according to Pena. Photos posted to the butterfly center's Facebook page show deep fissures underneath the wall's foundation. Pena said the erosion is new, coming after Fisher made repairs to the original erosion along the riverbank.
At one point, eroded sand underneath the wall made a hole 10 feet wide and 3 feet deep, according to a Facebook post by the butterfly center. The center posted that Fisher cancelled a court-ordered inspection Monday.
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"Any additional work to conceal the erosion and storm impacts prior to the court-ordered inspection are tantamount to a cover up," the center wrote.
The center refers to Fisher CEO Tommy Fisher as #TommyFissure.
"It looks worse now than it did before they made repairs," Pena said.
The center has sued Fisher and the conservative nonprofit group We Build the Wall, saying the wall on private land violates an international treaty and will lead to further flooding problems on both sides of the Rio Grande. It says the wall acts to impede the flood plain, causing water to rise more than it normally would.
Fisher has denied the claims and said it is not concerned about the wall's stability. In a recent interview, Tommy Fisher said the wall will "stand for 150 years."
But engineers interviewed by ProPublica disagree. One told the website: "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," said Alex Mayer, a civil engineer professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who has done research in the Rio Grande basin.
A video posted on social media by a reporter who worked on the story showed one of the wall's bollards, or posts, was loose enough to shake.
The questions about the wall led President Donald Trump to make a Twitter post earlier this month saying he disagreed with building it so close to the river, claiming it was done to harm him.
"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 perhaps it now doesn’t even work. Should have been built like rest of Wall, 500 plus miles," Trump tweeted.
Fisher Industries and Tommy Fisher are favorites of Trump and U.S. congressmen Sen. Kevin Cramer and Rep. Kelly Armstrong. Armstrong is from Dickinson and a longtime friend of the Fisher family.
Tommy Fisher's self-promotion on Fox News and Cramer's support have helped the company land $1.3 billion in government contracts to build portions of the president's coveted border wall. The Rio Grande project is separate from the government contracts.
Part of Fisher's sales pitch was that the company's design included bollards, that were quick to install and would let floodwater from the Rio Grande flow through them. But the engineers and hydrologists interviewed by ProPublica said the wall is built so close to the river and its foundation is so shallow that it is unlikely to withstand erosion and potential floodwater from the Rio Grande.
Fisher apparently tried to repair the original erosion by pouring more sand at the base of the wall, planting grass seed and planting some trees.
Pena said he and the butterfly center are interested in seeing the damage done to the river's banks when the floodwaters completely recede.
"There is minimal erosion on the riverbank at either end of the wall. It's not noticeable. But where the wall was built you can see the serious erosion. It's like night and day," Pena said.