McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The South Dakota contractor who built a controversial private border wall in South Texas, has won a $224 million contract with the State of Texas to build new barriers near Laredo, which is facing heavy criticism from opponents.
Tommy Fisher, CEO of Fisher Sand & Gravel Company, was awarded the contract last week by the Texas Facilities Commission (TFC), which is overseeing the construction of Gov. Greg Abbott’s state-funded border wall.
His company is being paid nearly $25 million per mile in what is so far the largest contract awarded for the Texas border wall, according to the commissioner’s comments from the Jan. 4 meeting.
Fisher has been hired to build 9.4 miles of 30-foot-tall border wall in Webb County, although not all of the land has yet been acquired, commissioners said. So far only 5.4 miles of land in Webb County has been negotiated and they are still working to get permission for 4.33 miles of borderlands.
Laredo City Council member Melissa Cigarroa is part of the No Border Wall Laredo Coalition, and on Thursday told Border Report the group believes the wall will be built through the low-income border communities of El Cenizo and Rio Bravo, which each have a population of fewer than 5,000.
Cigarroa recently was elected to the city council and has long been an opponent of the border wall. She has filed lawsuits during the Trump administration to prevent the federal government from taking her family’s private borderlands in Zapata County to build border walls.
She said she believes the Texas Facilities Commission now is “preying” on low-income residents in these communities.
“These are very poor communities,” Cigarroa said. “Of course, they’re preying on people who don’t, I think, understand the full impact of what a wall would be.”
Cigarroa said residents are being offered about $18,000 for the government to access and build a state border wall on their property.
“They’re offering them what is essentially the sum of an entire year’s income for the right of way,” she said.
The median income in these towns is $22,000 to $24,000, she said.
Border Report has asked the Texas Facilities Commission for the contract awarded to Fisher’s company and for the exact location of where the border wall will be built. A spokeswoman responded that the contract “has not been executed yet. When it is finalized it will be available online with the solicitation documents.”
Cigarroa said the No Border Wall Laredo Coalition is trying to organize public outreach and a town hall meeting to further educate residents on what it means to give the state of Texas the right of way to borderlands.
“There is some opposition. We’re trying to strategize how we can confront it and educate the people,” she said.
She said the wall would cut through public services, like El Cenizo Park.
“And look who they got to build it: the same one whose wall is about to fall apart in Mission,” Cigarroa said.
The New York Times recently reported that a government engineering report that was part of a lawsuit against Fisher’s private border wall found that the private border wall is at risk of falling over in a major flood and floating away.
According to the Times’ Jan. 4 article, the report — which was not made public — also found “that the fence could end up redirecting the Rio Grande in such a way that the land it sits on would end up as part of Mexico.”
But that was not brought up by commissioners during the Jan. 4 TFC meeting, which lasted just 32 minutes and approved Fisher’s contract, along with other contracts totaling $3.8 million for consultants and land management services to two other companies.
Commissioner William Allensworth did question why the cost per mile will be so high when he said a 200-mile border wall built last year by Poland on its border with Belarus cost only $2 million per mile.
He was told the TFC was given guidelines to build a border wall exactly like the Trump-era border wall. He said it includes 8 to 12 feet of underground concrete to prevent tunneling and 30 feet of above-ground steel. The bollards are being purchased from government surplus “at a substantially discounted price,” John Raff, TFC deputy executive director said.
During the meeting, commissioners were told nearly $1 billion in total contracts have so far been awarded and hundreds of borderland landowners have been approached.
The TFC has another meeting scheduled for Jan. 19 to vote on awarding a $137 million contract to a company to build border wall on the Texas-Mexico border, according to the posted agenda.
Cigarroa concedes there is a problem with undocumented migrants crossing from Mexico into these small towns and rural areas, but she says she believes it is a problem that should be addressed by the federal government and Congress via comprehensive immigration reform.
“It’s not like they don’t confront illegal immigration on a regular basis but it’s a false promise,” Cigarroa said. “We know in other communities that have walls it hasn’t stopped immigration. It’s heartening that Biden got to the border recently and hopefully more pressure will be put on Congress to address the issues.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com