Private border wall builder says South Texas structure doesn’t violate international treaty

The Border Wall

MISSION, TEXAS (Border Report) — The builder of a 3-mile stretch of private border wall in South Texas said recent complaints by the International Boundary and Water Commission that his fence violates an international treaty with Mexico “are so minute, it’s a joke.”

Nevertheless, Tommy Fisher, CEO of Fisher Industries, told Border Report on Thursday that he promises to mitigate any new concerns with his wall, which is built on private property along the Rio Grande with private funds.

Fisher added that has instructed his engineers to work with the IBWC to show them disparities, which he claims the agency has in its hydraulic models. His engineers will also try to find ways to remove any bollards so they can create gaps or gates that the federal agency, which oversees the river, requests.

The U.S. Section of the IBWC sent an April 20 letter to Fisher stating “from our analyses, we noted that the constructed bollard fence is not in compliance with the 1970 Boundary Treaty. Specifically, we identified one location where the percent deflection was 10.32%, well in excess of the threshold limit of +5%.”

Tommy Fisher is seen on Jan. 15, 2020, examining newly poured concrete at the 3-mile private border wall that his company, Fisher Sand & Gravel Company, built south of Mission, Texas, (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Fisher claims the IBWC is using a faulty hydraulic computer model and is mis-characterizing how much water could be a potential threat in a major flood event.

“They’re talking about one little area of a 3-mile fenced project that handles less than 3 percent of total volume of water,” Fisher said. “It’s such a non-issue but we want to respect the agency and we want to make them comfortable in the end that we did things right.”

According to the IBWC letter, if there was a significant flood event — like that of Hurricane Beulah, which struck the Rio Grande Valley in September 1967 — then the western most section of the 3-mile wall could deflect water in excess of 10%, which is above the maximum 5% stated in the treaty.

The agency stated that “if the bollard fence is extended upstream or downstream in the future, there may be adverse hydraulic impacts which need to be evaluated using an updated hydraulic analysis.”

The U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission predicts water deflection from a private border wall in South Texas of these percentage rates in an extreme hurricane-type event, according to an April 20, 2020, letter the agency sent the builder.

The area in dispute is in an oxbow area about 50 to 100-feet long, and IBWC says in a flood water would be deflected back at the U.S. side of the river. The area is located 6.5 miles upstream from the Anzalduas Dam.

But Fisher says the model they used was based on water flowing at 235,000 (CFS) cubic feet per second in that area. The IBWC’s models showed a pickup in CFS of a very small amount.

“They’re talking about 3,000 to 5,000 CFS of water,” Fisher said.

But he said if the agency wants a gate, or for him to remove sections of bollard to create more spacing, that will be very easy for him to do because his border wall structure has no crossbars.

“What we’re going to try to do again because we want to be good partners with the IBWC is to continue to work with the IBWC and show them what we think they did not do accurately and explain why and and how,” Fisher said.

It’s such a non-issue but we want to respect the agency and we want to make them comfortable in the end that we did things right.”

Tommy Fisher, CEO of Fisher Sand & Gravel Co.

For months, IBWC hydraulic engineers and engineers with Fisher’s company failed to agree on similar computer modeling as both sides squared off in federal court in McAllen, Texas. At the heart of the issue was a temporary restraining order that had been issued to stop construction of the $44 million private border wall.

On Jan. 9, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane ruled that the federal government — which had sued Fisher Industries on behalf of IBWC — failed to show that building the 18-foot-tall bollard fence so close to the river would alter the course of the river and violate the 1970 international water treaty with Mexico.

Immediately following the court ruling, Fisher, 50, sent nearly 100 workers onto the property and they finished building the border wall within two weeks.

Fisher’s structure is made of galvanized steel, and shines silver without the rust seen on most federal government border wall projects. His 18-foot-tall metal bollards are spaced five inches apart, that’s one-inch wider than federal government border wall projects going up throughout the Southwest.

But Scott Nicol, a long-time environmentalist in the Rio Grande Valley who chaired the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Committee for several years, says any deflection of water and any structure so close to the banks of the Rio Grande, could cause significant damage to the environment and wildlife in a flood event.

Scott Nicol, former chairman of the Borderlands Committee and member of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club is seen July 18, 2019, before a section of existing wall in Hidalgo, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

“Think of all the crap in the river when we get a hurricane. Five inches is not going to be enough to let a tree pass through,” Nicol said. “There have been 4-inch gaps and 5-inch gaps in different parts of the wall throughout the Southwest and they clog everytime.”

Nicol disputes that the Fisher company computer model is correct.

“It was run by Fisher or at least their contractors. So it’s not like you have a disinterested party solely interested in the truth,” Nicol said.

Nicol added that he is especially concerned because this 3-mile segment of border wall is not connected to any other structure and he fears it will fall and wash into the river in an extreme weather event. “You’ll have forces slamming the wall head on, tearing at it, and eroding its foundation,” he said. “It could be like a domino, piece by piece.”

Nicol added that he wishes the IBWC would release all of their findings to the public, not only just an executive summary.

You’ll have forces slamming the wall head on, tearing at it, and eroding its foundation. … It could be like a domino, piece by piece.”

Scott Nicol, former chair of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Committee.

Fisher’s company also is currently building a $400 million border wall near Yuma, Arizona, for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Customs and Border Protection, but that section of wall complies with government specs. The private border wall that he built in South Texas — with $22 million taken in personal loans, he hopes to sell to CBP in the future.

Fisher told Border Report that he had been working with 50 to 100 landowners to try to sell this model to them but everything came to a halt when the coronavirus pandemic began.

Tommy Fisher is seen on Jan. 4, 2020, on the Rio Grande south of Mission, Texas, where his company, Fisher Sand & Gravel, was building a private border wall on private land. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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