Skip to main content

Court-Mandated Engineering Reports Predict Section of Steve Bannon’s ‘$500 Used Car’ Border Wall Will Fall into Rio Grande


A privately-funded 3-mile section of border wall built thanks to Steve Bannon and Brian Kolfage’s “We Build the Wall” (WBTW) organization is destined to fail, according to a pair of engineering reports reviewed by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune. The inspections, both of which were conducted in relation to ongoing litigation surrounding the structure, confirm reports from May that said heavy erosion and inclement weather had left the wall “in danger of falling into the Rio Grande.”

Bannon, the former chief strategist to President Donald Trump, and Kolfage, an Air Force veteran, have both been charged by federal prosecutors for defrauding WBTW donors to maintain their “lavish” lifestyles, according to The Department of Justice.

Mark Tompkins, an environmental engineer who specializes in river management, penned one of the reports saying it was inevitable that WBTW’s private bollard fence on the Rio Grande “will fail during extreme high flow events.”

“When extreme flow events, laden with sediment and debris, completely undermine the foundation of the fence and create a flow path under the fence or cause a segment of the fence to topple into the river, unpredictable and damaging hydraulics will occur,” he wrote in an affidavit expected to be filed in federal court this week.

A geotechnical and structural study of the structure conducted by the Millennium Engineers Group also uncovered a plethora of serious deficiencies with the structure, including “gaps up to three feet wide and waist deep, concrete cracking, construction flaws and what the firm concluded was likely substandard construction material below the fence’s foundation,” according to ProPublica.

As previously reported by Law&Crime, the North Dakota construction firm that built the structurally unsound wall, Fisher Sand & Gravel, was also awarded a record-high $1.3 billion government contract to erect a portion of the federally funded U.S.-Mexico border wall. Despite FSG’s prototype being rejected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for lacking in both “quality” and “sophistication,” President Trump directly inserted himself into the process for evaluating and awarding the contracts, lobbying on behalf of FSG and the firm’s CEO Tommy Fisher.

Fisher, who has made a number of Fox News guest appearances in the past, reportedly sold Trump on his company by playing to his impatience with the lack of progress on his signature campaign promise, telling the president he could build the wall faster and cheaper than other contractors bidding on the project. Fisher described his design as the “Lamborghini” of walls.

The rosy outlook was not shared by Alex Mayer, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso who reviewed both reports.

“It seems like they are cutting corners everywhere,” Mayer told ProPublica. “It’s not a Lamborghini, it’s a $500 used car.”

Fisher has dismissed concerns about the wall’s structural integrity as “nonsense.”

Reached for comment, Fisher told the news organizations that he hadn’t reviewed the reports, but said all of the erosion problems had been fixed. He said his company planned to continue conducting quarterly checkups on the structure.

But again, experts told ProPublica that there was real reason to worry.

“To me, it’s almost like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” Southern Illinois University Edwardsville professor Adriana E. Martinez said. Martinez is a geomorphologist and reviewed the reports.

Tompkins’s report also called Fisher’s maintenance plan “completely inadequate” and a “haphazard and unprofessional approach to long-term maintenance.”

Time will tell who is right.

[image via Mario Tama/Getty Images]

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime:

Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.