President Donald Trump said Sunday that he did not approve of a section of border wall in Texas that was privately constructed and partially funded by a group of his supporters in Texas, claiming “it was only done to make me look bad” in response to a report that it might be unstable due to erosion.
“I disagreed with doing this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private group which raised money by ads. It was only done to make me look bad, and perhsps it now doesn’t even work. Should have been built like rest of Wall, 500 plus miles,” the president tweeted.
His tweet linked to an article from Pro Publica and The Texas Tribune that said experts fear the 3-mile stretch of 18-foot high steel fencing built on the banks of the Rio Grande is at risk of collapse.
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A group called “We Build the Wall” raised the money to privately build parts of the barrier in response to “politicians in both parties obstructing President Trump’s plan to build a wall on our southern border.”
The effort began as a GoFundMe campaign launched by Brian Kolfage in December 2018 amid a government shutdown sparked by Congress’ unwillingness to approve the funds Trump requested to build a new border wall, which had been a central part of his 2016 campaign. Kolfage later registered the group, which has raised more than $25 million, as a nonprofit organization.
Pro-Trump messages feature prominently on We Build the Wall’s social media pages. Its board includes former White House adviser Steve Bannon, and Trump ally Kris Kobach serves as its general counsel. It is unclear why Trump believes the section of wall the group helped fund was intended to make him “look bad.”
After Trump’s tweet, Kolfage posted one of his own saying the privately funded section of wall had been approved by the president’s administration.
“The private wall that @WeBuildtheWall built and funded is @DHSgov @CBP ENDORSED and APPROVED. Never forget it,” Kolfage said.
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We Build the Wall ultimately provided about $1.5 million for the $42 million project in Mission, Texas.
The company behind the construction, North Dakota-based Fisher Industries, has been awarded a $1.3 billion federal contract to build miles of border wall in Arizona, the largest such contract to date. Another $400 million contract Fisher won last year was placed under review by the Defense Department’s inspector general
Fisher Industries CEO Tommy Fisher told The Associated Press on Sunday he had “complete respect” for Trump but he thought he “just got some misinformation on this stuff.” He acknowledged that there had been erosion around the fence, which was built about 35 feet from the Rio Grande, the river that defines the U.S.-Mexico border through Texas. But he said his company was addressing the problem.
“The wall will stand for 150 years, you mark my words,” Fisher predicted.
Fisher had promoted the barrier built by his company as the “Lamborghini” of walls, promising he could build it faster and better than the government and using it as a showcase to win more federal contracts.
We Build the Wall touted the section of wall in Mission as “the first ever border barrier in the state of Texas that is actually built within feet of the border, instead of miles inland like the US Army Corps of Engineers has been doing for decades.”
But engineers who had seen the evidence of erosion told ProPublica and The Texas Tribune there were good reasons not to build so close to the river.
“When the river rises, it will likely attack those areas where the foundation is exposed, further weakening support of the fence and potentially causing portions … to fall into the Rio Grande,” Alex Mayer, a civil engineer professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, said in the ProPublica-Tribune report.
The construction near the river also led the U.S. government to sue Fisher Industries on behalf of the International Boundary and Water Commission, alleging the construction violates international treaties governing the use of the river.
A federal judge on Wednesday ordered attorneys for Fisher Industries and opponents of the private wall to set a schedule for experts to visit the site and inspect any erosion.
Contributing: The Associated Press