Private-border wall builder admits soil eroding at South Texas site

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Hearing reset a month to allow time for new 'grass to grow'

MISSION, Texas (Border Report) — Representatives for the man who built a controversial private border wall admitted in federal court Wednesday that there are overgrown grass and weeds and soil erosion at the site right along the Rio Grande in South Texas.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, Wednesday’s hearing was held via conference call. In it, lawyer Mark Courtois told U.S. District Judge Randy Crane that his client, Tommy Fisher, the CEO of Fisher Industries, is working to smooth out the embankment and re-seed grass that hasn’t taken since his crews built the 3-mile-long stretch of private border wall in January.

“Seed didn’t take. It needs some work and we’re going to work on it. We’re not going anywhere we will continue to work on it,” Courtois said.

Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice last year brought a lawsuit against Fisher on behalf of the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission to stop construction of the private border wall, which they claim violates an international river treaty with Mexico. Federal prosecutors claim that if there were to be a catastrophic weather event, like a hurricane, then water could deflect at a rate of up to 10.3%, which they say doubles the amount allowed by the treaty.

Above, photos taken on July 8, 2020, show erosion and overgrown weeds on the south side of the private border wall, which was built in South Texas in January. Below, photos taken on May 7 show a close-up of the wall. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Courtois disagreed with the analysis and said they would like to set up a meeting between engineers to discuss it in the next two weeks. “We need to get the engineers together to discuss deflection point. We’re in a disagreement on that issue and we need the engineers to come to a decision and some consensus and we think there’s a real good chance they can do that,” he told the court.

Both sides expressed frustration at the lack of input from Mexican officials but blamed it on the ongoing pandemic that has struck Mexico particularly hard.

Crane — who in January ruled that the government had not provided enough evidence to stop construction of the private border wall — said he would reset the hearing for 30 more days. And he said that during that time he hopes the hydrology meetings happen, and Fisher’s crew is able to clear the land and get some grass to grow.

“I appreciate some of your comments on how the coronavirus has slowed things down; its affects in Mexico,” said Crane, who serves on the U.S. District Court Southern District of Texas based in McAllen. “I really do expect by then engineers will have gotten together and I hope there is some progress on areas where grass didn’t take.”

Immediately after the hearing, Fisher told Border Report via telephone that he appreciated the time extension and said he was sending crews next week to the site to fix the eroding embankment, where some weeds are now several feet tall.

Tommy Fisher, CEO of Fisher Industries, shows freshly poured concrete laid on Jan. 15, 2020, on the south side of his private border wall. Six months later, the area is full of weeds and overgrown. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“We’re going to mow it and we’re going to start fixing it,” Fisher said. “That’s what erosion-control maintenance is and we’ve learned a lot from the water and I don’t see any big issues.”

Fisher said recent heavy rains in the Rio Grande Valley caused the sandy soil to recede into the Rio Grande. The river is about 250 feet wide at this point and is across from rural farmland and fields on the outskirts of the Mexican city of Reynosa. Fisher said most of the erosion is occurring on the sandier western side of the wall where there is less clay for grass seed to adhere.

An investigation by ProPublica and the Texas Tribune published last week found that private engineers found the erosion troubling and said it would only worsen with time and poses a threat to the Rio Grande.

Fisher has told Border Report that he built this $42 million private border wall — with most of his own private money — in order to have a border barrier right along the banks of the Rio Grande to help the Border Patrol. Most of the government-built border wall in South Texas is set-back from the river, some over a mile back.

“How do you think the Grand Canyon was formed over time, right? Well it takes time for the grass to grow in the sand and so areas where the grass hasn’t taken hold yet we’ll fix,” Fisher said. “And then if there’s any spots that it looks like it’s going to just becoming a problem then that’s where we’ll put riprap (rubble.)”

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