MISSION, Texas — On the day when Tommy Fisher participated in an inspection tour of his infamous wall built on private land on the Rio Grande River, allowing media to see the erosion and faulty construction that has critics calling for this portion of barrier to be removed, the U.S. government awarded Fisher's company another massive contract.
A $289.5 million contract, meaning Fisher Industries' total take from taxpayers is about $2 billion.
The good for Fisher outweighed the bad on this day for the Dickinson, N.D.-based company.
Whether it was good for anybody else remains to be seen.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol announced in a press release Monday, Aug. 3, that Fisher Industries was awarded another contract, this time for a 17-mile stretch of contiguous wall in Webb County, Texas, near Laredo. CBP said it is in an area where no barriers currently exist.
The government says the Laredo area is one of "high illegal activity, with over 21,750 illegal alien apprehensions and over 30,150 pounds of drugs seized this (fiscal year) to date."
"These projects will improve Laredo Sector’s ability to impede and deny illegal border crossings and the drug and human smuggling activities of transnational criminal organizations," the CBP said in its press release.
The news came concurrently while Fisher was inspecting with adversaries, lawyers, engineers and media a three-mile section of controversial border wall built on private land near Mission.
The short section has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks since an investigative news web site published photographs and information showing Fisher's wall threatened by erosion from the Rio Grande and what opponents say is shoddy construction.
"It's already at risk of falling down," ProPublica published on July 2.
When Hurricane Hanna passed over the area in late July and dropped 16 inches of rain, causing the river to rise rapidly, the erosion and construction issues were exacerbated.
Monday's inspection was long-delayed, twice put off by Fisher so his workers could make repairs to the eroded soil near the wall and leading down the riverbank to the water. Critics of Fisher like National Butterfly Center executive director Marianna Trevino Wright and the organization's lawyer Javier Pena, say the repairs amounted to little more than dumping sand and hydroseeding grass to cover up washouts.
The butterfly center sued Fisher to stop construction of the wall and its lawsuit continues in hopes the company will have to dismantle it. The center said the wall was built illegally because it deflects water from the Rio Grande since it was built so close to the water.
The federal government agrees with the butterfly center. It, too, has sued Fisher Industries, saying the wall violates an international boundary treaty with Mexico.
A U.S. district court judge has sided with Fisher and recently gave the sides three months to work out a solution through remediation, a decision Wright has said essentially allows Fisher Industries and the Trump administration to break the law.
The inspection appears to have done little to bring the sides together. Trevino Wright claims Tommy Fisher is downplaying the wall's problems by saying the erosion is not major and it's a normal part of any construction project.
"This is a project that would be condemned by any building, bridge or highway inspector," Wright told The Forum.
Fisher told media on the inspection tour the wall "will stand the test of time" and has so far worked as designed.
"Even if there was a tremendous, tremendous amount of erosion where it would come out eight, 10 feet wide ... wherever you have a slope, you're always gonna have a minimal amount of erosion, no matter what," Fisher said according to The Monitor newspaper of McAllen, Texas.
To which Trevino Wright responded, according to the newspaper: "Based upon his statements, you can tell he lies, because this is not just a little erosion."
Trevino Wright and the National Butterfly Center provided photos of the wall to The Forum. They are photos that were expressly approved by Pena, the center's attorney. Some are included with this blog.
(Mike McFeely is a columnist with The Forum/InForum. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)