Critics in southern Arizona call new border wall contract wasteful, unnecessary
NOGALES, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Looking south, you can see for what seems like 100 miles on a clear. Same goes for the north. What you do not see from this hill, which is smack-dab on the U.S.-Mexico border is any kind of barrier, beyond a four-stand barbed wire cattle fence.
Supporters of President Donald Trump's wall point to this as an example of a porous border that creates a national security liability.
Critics argue that this spot between Nogales and Sasabe is so remote and rugged, that the cost to build and damage done by a border wall far outweigh any benefit.
"It's a safety issue for us," said Dan Bell, a third generation rancher who operates the ZZ Cattle Corporation and Bear Valley Ranch, both of which lie along the Arizona border with Mexico.
Cut fences, busted water lines and potentially dangerous strangers on the trail have become a common hazard for the Bell family. Bell guided us along the miles-long winding and rugged dirt road that led to the spot on the mountain overlooking both countries.
"Where we’ve got the infrastructure, the road systems, the technology, the border wall systems, that’s where we’ve seen the biggest improvement," said Bell of the effect on his ranch of the barrier that was erected during the Obama Administration. That fence runs from Nogales to the east about two miles into the Forest Service land, on which Bell runs cattle.
The Department of Defense awarded a new contract earlier this month for 42 miles of new barrier, which would cut through the desert and mountains of this area. The contract has raised eyes from here to Washington D.C. because of it costing nearly $31-million per mile.
"I didn't know that figure until you mentioned it out here. That is a lot," said Bell.
"The Trump administration, for this project, has waived every relevant environmental and cultural resource protection law. So they are moving forward with no analysis of the harm this project would cause," said Laiken Jordahl, who runs the borderlands campaign for the Center for Biological Diversity, which is suing the administration over the wall.
Jordahl has documented the effects of border barrier construction on the environment and wildlife along Arizona's border with Mexico. Among the points he makes regarding the damage is one that stands out: Not many immigrants or smugglers use this part of the desert to cross into the US.
He says the cost isn’t worth any benefit it might bring.
"We're talking about blasting and bulldozing some of the most rugged areas along the U.S.-Mexico border to build a wall. And again, these are places where no one is really crossing to start with," said Jordahl.
Critics also question the company that won this latest contract. The Department of Defense will pay Fisher Sand and Gravel nearly $1.3 billion for 42 miles of barrier.
It is the largest border wall contract awarded to date, and the CEO is a vocal supporter of President Trump.
The company's last border wall contract, worth roughly $400-million, is under review by the DOD inspector general, after Democrats in Congress accused the White House of improper influence in awarding the no-bid contract.
Fisher did not respond to questions from CBS 5 Investigates.
"Every one of those companies have connections to Trump's campaign, which raises questions about single source and giving them contracts without a competitive bid," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, the Democratic Congressman who represents the district where the new barrier is set to go up.
Grijalva accuses the President of using the wall as a campaign tool, to the detriment of the budget and the environment.
"The agenda of the wall has always been political," said Grijalva.
It's not political to Dan Bell, who says he sees the benefits of increased enforcement and the wall - every day.
"I will tell you that the infrastructure that’s been put in has made things a lot safer for us out here," said Bell.
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