McFeely blog: Report likens ND firm's border wall to '$500 used car'

CEO of Dickinson's Fisher Industries has likened his walls to Lamborghinis, but engineers say they are more like cheap Toyotas

border wall butterfly center.jpg
A photo of erosion under the border wall constructed by Fisher Industries of Dickinson, N.D., that was caused by Hurricane Hanna. National Butterfly Center photo via Facebook
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The three-mile section of border wall built near Mission, Texas, by North Dakota's Fisher Industries got another poor report card.

This one is embarrassing, in fact.

ProPublica, a non-profit investigative journalism web site, reports that engineering reports on a wall built on the banks of the Rio Grande River on the U.S.-Mexico border say the barrier is unsound and it's a matter of when, not if, it fails.

Fisher Industries chief executive officer Tommy Fisher once likened his Dickinson, N.D., company's walls to high-priced Lamborghini automobiles —the best of the best.

But one engineer refuted that directly by comparing the wall's quality to a cheap used Toyota.


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

The reports are a blistering critique of Fisher's wall-building skills and were submitted in federal court this week as the nearby National Butterfly Center is suing Fisher Industries to have the wall removed.


  • McFeely: Bannon recently called N.D. contractor Tommy Fisher 'a mentor' Trump associate, indicted for fraud in alleged We Build the Wall scheme, lavished praise on Fisher for border wall construction
  • McFeely blog: More erosion trouble for N.D. company's border wall in Texas 'You can fit a human being into some of the holes underneath the wall now,' lawyer says
  • McFeely blog: Trump tweets ND company built border wall too close to river 'to make me look bad'
  • McFeely blog: Border wall built by N.D. company 'already at risk of falling down'

It's the latest rebuke of Fisher Industries, who with relentless promotion by Tommy Fisher and help from North Dakota U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, has secured about $2 billion in federal contracts to build border walls. Fisher has impressed President Donald Trump with appearances on Fox News and the company has become a favorite of the president, who made building border walls a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign and his presidency.
Tommy Fisher and family members were major contributors to Cramer's 2018 campaign. Tommy Fisher is a longtime friend of North Dakota U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, also from Dickinson.

Fisher built the wall near Mission was built in conjunction with We Build the Wall, a non-profit led by former White House staffer Steve Bannon and controversial former veteran Brian Kolfage. Bannon, Kolfage and others were recently hit with federal indictments for fraud. They were accused of funneling money from We Build the Wall for personal profit to fund lavish lifestyles.

In a recent podcast, Bannon called Tommy Fisher "a mentor."

The nonprofit also hired Fisher to build a half-mile fence segment in Sunland Park, New Mexico, outside El Paso, Texas.

The three-mile wall has been riddled with problems from the start. Fisher was sued for breaking an international treaty by building it so close to the river and after its completion rains caused heavy erosion.


An earlier ProPublica/Texas Tribune report included opinions from engineers that Fisher's wall was in danger of falling into the Rio Grande . Fisher called the erosion a normal part of the construction process and company crews made quick repairs to the damage, which wall opponents called superficial and inadequate.

Engineers hired by the National Butterfly Center to provide affidavits in federal court didn't pull punches on Fisher's wall.

"Fisher Industries’ private bollard fence will fail during extreme high flow events," said Mark Tompkins, an environmental engineer hired by the butterfly center who specializes in river management.

According to ProPublica, "Experts have said the fence will face a never-ending battle with erosion given its proximity to the water and the sandy, silty material of the banks. In the Rio Grande Valley, the federal government usually builds sections of the wall miles inland on top of existing levees, partly due to erosion concerns."

"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 the affidavit to be filed in court.

Related Topics: THE MCFEELY MESS
Opinion by Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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