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Trump’s Emergency Declaration Could Stall Construction Projects At Military Bases

Above: Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018.
Associated Press
Above: Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018.

Military communities around the country are looking at the potential impact of President Trump’s state of emergency declaration.

The president declared a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday to secure up to $8 billion in funding for a barrier on the southern border – more than four times what Congress approved.

In San Diego officials are eyeing the long-term costs of the Trump administration’s decision to pull $3.6 billion of that $8 billion from the military construction budget to use for the wall along the border.

Mark Balmert, executive director of the San Diego Military Advisory Council, said Friday he was fielding questions about the impact of such a move.

“These (military) facilities are built by private contractors. And their business will take a hit. Their employees can take a hit, too,” Balmert said. “So there will be some impact.”

San Diego is a major West Coast hub for the Navy and Marines. One in five jobs here is tied in some way to defense.

“We don’t know what that impact is, but the uncertainty alone starts to hit each household,” Balmert said.

There are numerous military construction projects underway or planned in San Diego County, including improvements at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to house the F-35 jet fighter. A new pier for the Navy, set to begin this year, could be on the chopping block, along with hundreds of smaller projects.

The Marines have been under fire to improve water quality at Camp Pendleton after tests detected bacteria found in human and animal waste. A $48 million project to improve drinking water is set to get underway.

Rep. Mike Levin, D–San Juan Capistrano, is a first-term congressman whose district includes Camp Pendleton.

“There’s no question there is a direct and indirect economic implication to all of this, but my primary consideration is the safety and security of the country, and the president is stealing billions from a number of very important military construction projects,” Levin said.

The House Appropriation Committee released a long list of construction projects that could be affected by the emergency declaration, including $124 million in projects on Camp Pendleton alone. Levin had just returned to Southern California on Friday after spending the week in Washington. Like most members of Congress from military towns, he expected to spend the weekend fielding questions from constituents in and out of the military.

Minutes after the president announced he was declaring a state of emergency, California announced that the state would challenge the decision in court. In a press conference, Gov. Gavin Newsom called the emergency declaration a manufactured crisis.

“No other state will be more harmed than the state of California because of the magnitude of the money,” Newsom said. “We’re also looking at the impact of our National Guard deployment.”

The governor had hoped to work out an agreement with the federal government to send National Guard troops to help stop fentanyl and other drugs from entering California.

But the Trump administration  announced Friday it is pulling $2.5 billion in Department of Defense funds from anti-drug trafficking activities to help build the wall.

Balmert said the San Diego Military Advisory Council, which looks at the local economic impact of the military, is neutral on whether the federal government should expand the border wall. The group’s focus is on lessening the impact of the project on San Diego’s economy.

Private contractors on military bases will face extra costs, like maintaining security clearances on every construction worker. And then there is the cost to the taxpayer if a firm has already signed a Department of Defense contract.

“And then the contractor has a right to come in and say, this is the cost of having us stopping and restarting to our contract,” Balmert said. “So if there is a stop this year and a start next year, the project won’t be completed at the same cost. The cost will go up.”

This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2020 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

As a military reporter, Steve Walsh delivers stories and features for TV, radio and the web.