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Pentagon can’t build 3 extra border wall segments due to costs

Construction crews stage replacement border wall panels for delivery to the Santa Teresa Border Wall Replacement project near the Santa Teresa Port of Entry. (Mani Albrecht/U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
September 17, 2019

The Defense Department has put a stop on three new border sections in California and Arizona it previously believed could be built from existing wall funds.

A Monday court filing, obtained by Politico, details the Department of Defense decision to halt three particular projects, which would have accounted for an additional 20 miles of barriers, lighting and supporting infrastructure. The original Pentagon-funded wall projects appear unaffected by the recent development.

The court filing appears to describe the three projects as extra wall sections, not provided for in the Pentagon’s original $2.5 billion funding allotment for various border construction projects. As of Aug. 27, the Pentagon believed it could build the additional portions of the border wall, from costs savings on seven other projects approved in the original Pentagon funding allotment.

“In the course of executing the contracts for the previously-approved Section 284 projects . . . the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) determined that that lower-than expected contract costs may yield sufficient savings to build up to an additional 20 miles of border barrier,” the filing said.

Funding for border walls and infrastructure has been challenged before and later approved in a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court.

The latest court filing, related to persistent legal challenges by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives,  indicates the Pentagon ultimately determined there were not enough cost savings to cover the additional projects. The legal challenge is also brought on by environmental activists, including Tuscon-based Center for Biological Diversity and the Rio Grande International Study Center.

“Based on its work in definitizing the contracts for the original Section 284 projects, USACE has determined that there are insufficient contract savings to undertake the three additional Section 284 projects authorized by the Secretary of Defense on August 26, 2019,” the filing continued.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers originally said they wouldn’t be able to determine if the projects could be afforded until later in the fiscal year.

The funding measure supported by the Pentagon follows President Donald Trump’s February declaration of a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border, for which he said would require $6.5 billion in total funding diversions.

The declaration has been met with various legal challenges. A lower court had halted the $2.5 billion portion in May, before the decision was overturned by the Supreme Court.

The original $2.5 billion funding came from various military counternarcotics programs, and was recently bolstered by another $3.6 billion in diverted defense funding, originally allotted for various military construction projects.

The latest $3.6 billion Pentagon funding allotment is expected to add 175 more miles of barriers to the ongoing border construction projects.

Another $600 million was also requested from U.S. Treasury Department asset forfeiture programs.