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U.S. donates leftover border wall materials, including to Texas for its own wall

The federal government has donated at least $6 million worth of leftover border wall materials to Texas, which will use them for the state’s plan to build its own wall.

The materials bought with federal tax money were donated to that effort despite the fact that on his first day in office, President Joe Biden said that no more American taxpayer dollars would be used to construct a border wall.

The donated materials are part of a federal effort to clear out the estimated $265 million in leftover wall parts from dormant construction sites along the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of the materials are going to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson for processing.

After processing, the material will eventually be offered to federal, state and local agencies as well as to nonprofits, either for sale or donation, depending on the entity. The Texas donation was the largest so far.

Davis-Monthan’s Defense Logistics Agency has been receiving truckloads of the materials for weeks. They had been piled up along the border, including the Southern Arizona desert, for over a year, since Biden terminated the Trump administration’s federal wall construction when he took office.

D-M had received 242 truckloads as of Feb. 4 and is expected to receive up to 950, said Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense.

The materials are either scheduled to be or are now being transferred from border barrier construction sites in the Border Patrol’s Tucson, Yuma and San Diego sectors to Defense Logistics agencies at Davis-Monthan and at two sites in California. One of the California agencies is in Barstow, expected to receive a potential 250 trucks, and the other is in Camp Pendleton, Mitchell said.

Texas project benefits

Among materials being transferred are 1,757 bollard panels for wall construction that the federal government donated to the Texas State Agency for Surplus Property, Mitchell said.

In December, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott debuted construction of Texas’ border wall in Rio Grande City.

On Feb. 10, the Texas Facility Commission, which runs the agency for surplus property and is the agency overseeing the state border wall project, announced it had received the prefabricated federal border panels.

The bollards are valued at $6 million “during the donation phase,” Mitchell said.

The government didn’t say what the panels were worth when they were bought, but the wall projects, which varied widely across the U.S.-Mexico border, cost about $8.2 million a mile at the low end.

An article in the Atlantic estimated the cost of bollards at about $9,000 apiece, which would mean the donation to Texas cost nearly $16 million.

Many of the steel bollards are filled with concrete and rebar, which could make recycling the steel more complicated and lower its value, according to the Atlantic article. While the process is still early, the government has not encountered issues regarding bollards being filled with concrete, Mitchell said.

Sites being cleared

The cost of federal wall projects varied from about $8.2 million a mile in the El Paso sector, in Texas, to $49 million a mile near El Centro, California, based on an Arizona Daily Star analysis of Army Corps data.

The cost variation is due to different site conditions, some with challenging terrain, as well as the fact that amenities at different projects varied, such as height of the wall panels or type of security systems.

When construction stopped, the day Biden took office, everything that was already purchased and on site stayed there, said Jay Field, spokesperson with the Army Corps of Engineers. Materials were consolidated and left out in various sites by the wall, including near Guadalupe Canyon and Sasabe in Arizona.

The Department of Defense would only say that material under control of the Army Corps of Engineers — the contractor for many border barrier projects — was “properly stored and secured,” when asked numerous times for specifics on how the materials were protected from the elements. At some of these sites, anyone could walk up to the materials, which were out in the desert with no signs of security or shelter.

Materials include PVC conduit, fiber optic cable, electrical supplies, security cameras and associated specialized supplies, steel bollard panels, steel mesh, steel rebar, light poles, crushed aggregate, processed riprap rock, processed sand and drainage-related materials.

The materials are being coordinated for transfer from the 22 border wall construction projects that were funded by the Department of Defense, which received a majority of border wall funding. The sites are stretched across all four border states, including the Border Patrol’s San Diego, El Centro, Yuma, Tucson, El Paso and Del Rio sectors.

When Biden halted construction, none of these 22 projects had been completed. But at 14 of them, contractors had finished installing wall panels, according to data provided by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Contractors focused on installing panels first, followed by things like paving roads and installing lighting or security systems, Field said.

Of the 11 projects in Arizona, only three were stopped before panel installation was complete, in the Tucson sector, near the border towns of Sasabe and Naco, as well as in the Yuma sector to the west.

The unfinished projects on the Tucson sector border were some of the most expensive in the country, at a cost of $27.3 million to $30 million a mile, based on the analysis of Army Corps data.

Where is it going?

Besides what first headed to processing locations including Davis-Monthan, federal agencies and military installations identified to receive the materials include Customs and Border Protection, FEMA, Fort Huachuca and Luke Air Force Base, Mitchell said.

Customs and Border Protection wouldn’t specify what materials it is receiving but said they would be used in border wall remediation.

The Department of Homeland Security announced in December it would begin remediation in the coming months, which could include new barriers added to fill in small gaps in the wall, installation of small wildlife passages and cattle fencing and guards, erosion control, work on access roads, drainage completion or repair and more.

Fort Huachuca sent team members to the border to meet with Customs and Border Protection to identify some materials it could potentially use, said spokeswoman Tanja Linton, adding it is too soon to provide more details.

The other agencies identified to receive materials — FEMA and Luke Air Force Base — did not respond to inquiries on what they were receiving or how it would be used. The Department of Defense also did not answer questions about this.

Before offering the materials to other federal agencies, the government had contractors reach out to companies they purchased materials from, to see if any could be returned for a credit, Field said. Some items were returned, including electrical materials, fiber shelters, welding materials, concrete aggregate and cement.

Failing that, the government will try to give it to other federal agencies; for example, a base could need riprap rock for a construction project or cameras to upgrade its security system, Field said.

Defense Department agencies have first pick of the materials, followed by Defense Department special programs, including eligible law enforcement agencies, state firefighters, the federal Computers For Learning Program that gives computers to K-12 schools, or customers of Foreign Military Sales, the government’s program for transferring defense articles, services and training to international partners and organizations, said Mitchell, with the Defense Department.

Then the General Services Administration takes control of leftover materials and all federal agencies can request the property. After that is the “donation stage,” where surplus property is donated to nonfederal entities, which include eligible state and local government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

After that, any property still remaining is made available to all customers over two days on a first-come, first-served basis.

And lastly, if they have no takers in any of those routes, the materials could be destroyed or scrapped.

“Not everything has an actual value, a good value,” Field said. “But most of the stuff we have there actually does have value. And it seems like we do have some pretty good places that we can turn it over.”

Construction materials that have already been given to Defense Department customers include:

Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, China Lake, which received six metal pipes originally valued at $1,000 and 100 bulk packaging materials originally valued at $449.

The Defense Logistics Agency received 69 ground rods originally valued at $7,000 to place into its supply stock.

The U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division received two commercial brackets originally valued at $456.

The U.S. Marine Corps 2nd Marine Division received three ground rods originally valued at $300.

Other federal agencies that received materials include the Department of Interior, which got 123 bulk packaging materials originally valued at $552,132, miscellaneous welding equipment components originally valued at $63,000, and 222 miscellaneous construction materials originally valued at $336,000.

Besides the bollards for Texas’ border wall, the other state organization to receive donated materials is Illinois State Agency for Surplus Property, which received 51 bars and rods originally valued at $27,000.

Contact reporter Danyelle Khmara at dkhmara@tucson.com or 573-4223. On Twitter: @DanyelleKhmara


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