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Storm Causes Erosion At Trump Backers’ Private Border Wall

The National Butterfly Center via AP
This Sunday, July 26, 2020, photo provided by the National Butterfly Center, shows damage caused by Tropical Storm Hanna at the Fisher border wall, a privately funded border fence on the Rio Grande River near Mission, Texas.

Weeks after it was criticized by President Donald Trump as “done to make me look bad,” a private border wall built by his supporters in South Texas has suffered new erosion in a weekend tropical storm that was the project’s first major weather test.

Heavy rain and winds from Hanna left behind wide gashes in the land in front of the fence, which is next to the Rio Grande, the now-swollen river that separates Texas and Mexico. While the fence’s posts are all still standing, some of the holes in front of the fence are several feet deep, suggesting that part of the barrier could become unstable, according to the project’s opponents.

Despite a widely shared viral video purporting to show the storm taking down a border wall, neither the private fence nor government-built border barriers were knocked down by the storm. U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Monday said that video shows a border wall construction site in New Mexico in June.

But a legal battle continues over the soundness of the private border wall, which was built in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley by North Dakota-based Fisher Industries, a company that has since received a $1.3 billion wall contract from the U.S. government, the largest award to date. The project has been regularly promoted by We Build the Wall, a nonprofit group set up by Trump supporters whose online fundraiser has collected more than $25 million. We Build the Wall organizers have repeatedly claimed they have the president’s support.

A tweet sent by Trump indicates otherwise.

“I disagreed with doing this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private group which raised money by ads,” he tweeted July 12 after initial reports of erosion along the fence. “It was only done to make me look bad.”

A day later, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who joined We Build the Wall as general counsel and is running for the U.S. Senate in Kansas, said the president had “personally applauded We Build the Wall to me multiple times.”

Fisher Industries installed fence posts just 35 feet (10 meters) from the Rio Grande. That’s much closer to the river than the government ordinarily builds border barriers because of concerns about erosion and flooding that could violate U.S. treaty obligations with Mexico.

The nonprofit National Butterfly Center has sued We Build the Wall and Fisher Industries, arguing that the fence posts and the work done to slope the land in front of the fence will shift the flow of the Rio Grande and cause new flooding on both sides.

The butterfly center is located next to the Fisher-built fence. It provided photos taken Monday of various spots where the riverbank has eroded in front of the fence. According to the butterfly center, the areas that show erosion are the same places that Fisher crews patched earlier this summer prior to Trump’s tweet.

“It looks worse now after the repairs than it did before the repairs,” said Javier Peña, a lawyer for the butterfly center. “We all need to be concerned that Fisher destroys part of the river for profit and then moves on.”

Tommy Fisher, the company’s CEO, said any erosion would eventually go away once the land has grass fully planted or is replaced with synthetic material. The fence posts and underlying concrete remain sound, said Fisher, who said earlier this month that the project will “stand for 150 years.”

Work crews are already on site smoothing over the cracks in the land found Monday, Fisher said.

“If it was going to fall down, good luck,” he said. “You’d better bring on a lot more wind.”

The National Weather Service estimates that about 15-17 inches (38-43 centimetres) of rain fell near the fence site during Hanna, with 33 mph (53 km/h) winds reported in the adjacent town of Mission.

Associated Press reporter John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report.