Refurbishment work begins on the Arizona border wall construction site
The US Army Corps of Engineers and Contractors began cleaning the border wall construction sites along the US-Mexico border on Thursday, which President Joe Biden interrupted when he took office in January.
The redevelopment work on unfinished building sites signals the completion of a four-year effort by the previous administration of former President Donald Trump to expand the construction of the Wall with nearly $ 10 billion in diverted military funds. Trump called an emergency at the border.
The U.S. Army’s Engineering Corps placed a total of 22 contracts valued at $ 7.55 billion to build or replace 591 miles of new barriers. Most of the construction was concentrated in the state of Arizona, but there are also significant parts in New Mexico and West Texas.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Defense announced last month the formal cancellation of military-funded contracts for projects that had not yet been completed or started, with the intention of returning approximately $ 2 billion in unspent funds.
On Thursday, construction teams from BFBC, a subsidiary of Barnard Construction Company, and the Corps began rehabilitation of the first two abandoned projects, which are located in the Air Force’s Barry M. Goldwater Range in Yuma County.
Barnard was awarded two $ 419.7 million contracts to replace 53 miles of physical barriers. The crews had the bollard fence panels installed by Jan. 20, and Barnard had received $ 325 million so far, according to the corps.
In a written statement, the Army Corps of Engineers stressed that the work would not add to the construction of additional barriers. Instead, they focused on activities such as backfilling open trenches, cleaning up debris, leveling unfinished maintenance roads, and cutting and covering pipes.
“These limited activities are specific life and health measures that are in line with government plans to end Department of Defense diverting funds to a border wall,” the Army Corps of Engineers said in a statement.
Jay Field, a corporation spokesman, said the two Yuma sites were the first along the US-Mexico border to begin remediation work. However, he added that work at additional locations along the southern U.S. border was in the planning states and would begin in the coming weeks.
“I don’t have a good schedule or an estimate of how long it will take. It’s many miles along many, many boundaries,” Field said. “And the contractors are dependent on the availability of their crews. Of course, we want to do this as quickly and safely as possible. That’s why we work with them to develop schedules.”
Efforts are limited to projects funded by the Pentagon, not those funded by Congress through the appropriation process.
US Customs and Border Protection, which oversees Congressional-approved treaties, failed to respond to a request for comment.
The announcement by DHS and Pentagon that they would terminate the Border Wall Contracts sparked a process governed by federal contract laws.
The construction companies that have received the border wall contracts will carry out the renovation work as part of the termination procedure and will receive compensation.
Of the 22 military-funded projects, the Army Corps of Engineers said eight had had ongoing work installing border fence panels since January, when Biden stopped construction.
For the remaining projects, the installation of the bollard fences was complete, but construction contracts for other components such as lighting and gates originally extended for most of them until the summer of that year.
Politicians remain critical of the future of the wall
Republicans continued to support building barriers on the border even after Trump left, but Biden’s White House criticized the expansion of the border wall as wasteful.
Other Democrats have also remained vocal critics, including US MP Raúl Grijalva, Arizona, who chairs the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee. In Congress, he represents the section of the border where construction crews started the renovation work on Thursday.
“The haphazard construction and flawed construction of former President Trump’s useless border wall created dangerous conditions that need to be resolved,” Grijalva said in a written statement. “As the Biden administration focuses on addressing these immediate threats, more needs to be done to address the long-term environmental damage to wildlife corridors, desert habitats and Native American sacred sites.”
Grijalva asked Biden to involve border communities and local residents to determine how the effects of building the Wall can be addressed.
Biden is under pressure from conservation and interest groups to take stronger action to repair the damage to the environment caused by construction.
Randy Serragio, conservation advocate in the southwest of the Tucson-based Center for Biodiversity, said the remediation work, which began on construction sites Thursday, is the bare minimum the Biden government should do.
Conservationists are calling on Biden to analyze and remove parts of the newly installed barriers in ecologically and archaeologically sensitive areas along the border where, in their opinion, no construction work should have taken place.
The Trump administration waived a number of environmental and cultural laws to expedite the construction of border walls under a 2006 law passed by Congress to build the previous round of barriers under President George W. Bush.
“If all environmental laws had not been repealed, much of this damage would not have occurred in the first place,” said Serraglio.
“We have laws protecting against this damage and we need to restore the rule of law in the border areas to prevent this from happening again,” he added. “But also to boost efforts and funding to actually repair the damage.”
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