JANUARY 14, 2017 -- BY JIM NEFF
THE NEFF ZONE
You want to build a fence to keep your neighbor's dog out of your back yard. The easy part is just saying, “I will build a fence.” After that, however, there are all sorts of details to consider.
Of course, the big consideration is how much will the fence cost. Before you can determine that figure there are questions that need to be answered. Where is your property line? How tall will the fence be? What materials will be used to construct the fence? Who will do the work? After it's in place will it actually keep the neighbor's pooch on his own side?
Any responsible home owner would go through this process before launching such a big project, right? Then why shouldn't government do the same thing? This brings us to the proposal to build a wall along the Mexico/U.S.A border. Take all the politics out of it. Just consider the logistics. Building such a wall has some very real and formidable challenges.
First of all, where do you put the wall? In order to build a 1000-mile wall, the government will have to trample over the individual property rights of thousands of land owners. “What many Americans don’t know is that the southwestern border already has at least 650 miles of fencing. Much of it is along the Texas-Mexico border, which is almost entirely privately owned land.” When that fence was built, “It touched off an epic battle with South Texas property owners who were served condemnation notices by the federal government.”
In Texas, the new portion of the wall will meet the same legal disputes. “We’re going to see a lot of eminent domain lawsuits and there’s going to be a lot of landowners affected.” You would assume that these lawsuits would have to be settled before any wall construction could proceed. (https://www.texasobserver.org/border-wall-trump-land-dispute/)
Added to this, some parts of the wall won't even be on the actual border. “Because of both the floodplain and the U.S.-Mexico water treaty (some parts of the wall) would be built up to a mile inland from the Rio Grande.” When the existing fence/wall was built: “Hundreds of property owners were sued just to build the existing chunks of wall. Some 400 relinquished properties ranging in size from a driveway to commercial lots and farms.”
Making this even stickier, the Secure Fence Act waived 37 federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act. There are groups still “fighting for environmental and civil rights issues surrounding the construction of the border wall since the bill was passed a decade ago.”
Okay, let's assume all the legal issues are sorted out. At that point you have to have to decide what type of wall you plan to build and realistically calculate the cost. The wall most often referenced by proponents is “35 to 65 feet of concrete reinforced with steel.” The cost bandied about is between $8-12 billion.
MIT, a place where there are some pretty smart people, estimates that dollar amount may be a bit low. “Imagine a 1,000-mile wall, at a height of about 50 feet. Then suppose the wall extended 15 feet underground—a little more than is structurally necessary for a foundation, but enough to deter some tunnelers. Let’s assume that it’s one foot thick—enough to make a 50-foot wall stable and hard to cut through. The cost would be $38 billion.” (https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602494/bad-math-props-up-trumps-border-wall/)
Also, even if you decided to build this wall, it would not be that easy. Business Insider notes: “Building the wall may require about 339 million cubic feet of concrete, or three times what was used to build the Hoover Dam. (http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-wall-impossible-build-architects-2016-1)
The Economist cautions: “As it is not economically feasible to transport cement and concrete across great distances, the biggest business beneficiaries will probably be within 200 miles of the border.” (http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2016/07/daily-chart-16)
Which brings us to who is going to build the wall. Who will do the actual work? You are going to need architects, engineers, skilled trades, and builders who know what they are doing. Anything else and you'll have a boondoggle of epic proportions and a final product that will be a rickety mess.
That's why the proposal by a Massachusetts sheriff is ludicrous – have prisoners do the labor. His idea is to take prisoners doing time in his county lockup (30-90 days), transport them across the country, house them, feed them, guard them, and transport them back when their time is up. These inmates have no construction skills and varying physical abilities. Multiply this scenario by thousands of county jails all over America. How much do you think this would cost? What would the quality of work be? (http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/01/mass_sheriff_would_have_prison.html)
So, assuming all of this comes together, will the wall be a cost effective way to accomplish the stated purpose? Maybe, but: “More Mexican immigrants have returned to Mexico from the US than have migrated here since the end of the Great Recession, according to a November 2015 Pew Research Center analysis. The overall flow of Mexican immigrants between the two countries is at its smallest since the 1990s.” (http://www.globalsecurity.org/security/systems/mexico-wall.htm)
I leave it to you to decide if a wall should be constructed between the U.S. and Mexico. Politics and personalities aside, the logistics offer an interesting perspective.
This is an image of the MIT cost calculator for a proposed wall.
To run the calculator for various dimensions, click here.