Nation & World

Border wall facing delays as complications arise

A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent passes along a section of border wall in Hidalgo.
A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent passes along a section of border wall in Hidalgo. AP archives

The federal government has extended its deadline for companies to bid on the first contracts for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico as new questions and complications arise about the multibillion-dollar project.

Trump has promised to fast-track construction of the wall, but Senate Republican leaders are suggesting they will reject his efforts to include it in a short-term spending bill, which could delay work indefinitely until agreement is reached on funding.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the six-day extension to April 4 will allow companies time to consider answers to dozens of questions that potential bidders submitted ahead of Wednesday’s initial deadline. Several companies from Fort Worth and elsewhere in North Texas say they are seeking contracts for some of the work.

Earlier this month, the agency published requests for proposals for a wall that would be 30 feet high and easy on the eye for those looking at it from the north.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Tuesday that administration officials informed her staff that next year’s budget will request $2.6 billion to build less than 75 miles of wall.

Trump asked Congress to add money for the wall — as well as defense programs — in the near-term spending bill intended to keep the government open past April 28, but Capitol Hill Republicans said this week they oppose the idea, both to avoid a shutdown as well as the deep cuts that the new spending would require.

Trump’s request, outlined in conversations with White House officials and in a memo from Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, calls for $33 billion in new defense and border spending — and $18 billion in cuts to other priorities, such as medical research and jobs programs.

But it appeared that few on the Hill shared the White House’s appetite to flirt with a government shutdown over the border wall, which Democrats have pledged to oppose and which even some conservative Republicans object to on fiscal grounds.

Several senior Republicans said Tuesday that Trump’s wall request is not likely to be included in the stopgap budget plan, which would merely authorize current spending levels to continue past April 28 — but instead will be considered during separate negotiations later this year to add new spending to the current budget.

“Congress will decide what they want and what they don’t want,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., one of a half-dozen Republicans engaged in spending negotiations to reject the request. “I don’t think we need a shutdown argument, period. I don’t know any rational person who wants a shutdown.”

In addition, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters Tuesday that he expects that there will be a bipartisan spending bill and that a vote to fund the wall would happen in a separate, supplemental bill sometime later this year.

Just days after the defeat of the American Health Care Act, the disagreement could set up yet another showdown between Hill Republicans and the White House as Trump attempts to take immediate action on some of his more controversial campaign pledges.

Reality check

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke conceded Wednesday that geographic and physical challenges — including the Rio Grande and threatened wildlife — will make it difficult to build the “big, beautiful wall” that Trump has promised.

Previous administrations and officials in Texas state government have faced that problem for years, acknowledging it’s impossible to build a wall in some stretches and saying the only practical course of action is to increase security and technology in those areas.

“There’s parts of our border which it makes absolutely no sense,” said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in a recent TV interview.

Trump shrugged that off throughout the campaign, insisting that he’s a developer who knows how to get it done. Trump energized his crowds with his insistence that a wall will be constructed along the border and Mexico will pay for it.

But Zinke’s comments, and the administration’s budget proposal seeking billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars to finance the project, offer a reality check and a possible sign the president is moving away from his initial plan.

But Zinke began delivering a different message in remarks Tuesday and Wednesday. He told reporters in a conference call that building a wall “is complex in some areas,” including Big Bend National Park in Texas and the river, which twists through nearly half of the 2,000-mile border.

Hundreds of species live within 30 miles of the border, including threatened jaguars and Mexican gray wolves. The Trump administration is poised to relax protections for the jaguars, which live in northern Mexico and parts of the southwestern United States.

The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for the border wall, but Zinke said the Interior Department will play a critical support role.

“At the end of the day what’s important is American security and to make sure we have a border,” Zinke said. “Without a border a nation cannot exist.”

Zinke’s comments followed remarks he made Tuesday to the Public Lands Council, a group that represents Western ranchers.

“The border is complicated, as far as building a physical wall,” he said in comments first reported by E&E News. “The Rio Grande, what side of the river are you going to put the wall? We’re not going to put it on our side and cede the river to Mexico. And we’re probably not going to put it in the middle of the river.”

Electronic monitors may be more appropriate in some areas, Zinke said, while areas with imposing natural features may not require additional reinforcements.

Zinke’s comments also sparked speculation that the Trump administration is floating the idea of building some stretches of the wall on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.

Texas contractors

John Garrett, owner of JP Construction in Fort Worth, said he planned to submit his company’s design proposal for the wall by Thursday night.

“I came up with a design for a wall that is 30 feet tall, 7  1/4 inches thick and 10 feet wide,” Garrett said, adding that his design would be concrete but would be designed similar to double-pane glass.

“I’m going with double-pane walls, two walls,” he said.

Designing a wall for an international boundary is new territory for JP Construction, as it will be for most other prospective vendors, Garrett said.

“I think it’s going to be new for everyone. Something like this is very unusual,” said Garrett, who added that his design would be only for the Texas portion of the border.

JP Construction is one of at least three Fort Worth-area companies that have expressed an interest in bidding for some of the work involved in building a wall.

Penna Group LLC, a south Fort Worth company that specializes in excavation, water and sewer projects, residential construction and other tasks, has joined JP Construction in signing onto the federal government’s interested-bidder list, which is essentially the first step businesses take toward becoming involved in wall construction.

Another Tarrant County company, U.S. Concrete of Euless, isn’t on the list. But Chief Executive Bill Sandbrook has been widely quoted in news reports saying his company wishes to be a material supplier for the wall project.

U.S. Concrete is a publicly traded company and is one of the largest concrete providers in the nation. It operates under brands such as Redi-Mix Concrete in North Texas, Atlas-Tuck Concrete in Oklahoma and Central Concrete Supply Co. in the San Francisco area.

Staff writers Gordon Dickson and John Gravois contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press, The Washington Post and the Austin American-Statesman.