Trump has not given up on the idea, insisting that the dark color will improve his grim appearance and leave the steel too hot to touch during the summer months. At a meeting on the border wall at the White House last month in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the president told Jared Kushner and colleagues to continue painting and researching cost estimates, according to four administration officials aware of the meeting.
“POTUS has changed its mind and now wants the fence painted. We are modifying the contracts to add them, “said an official involved in the construction effort who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being fired.
Trump at the meeting ordered the assistants to seek advice from Fisher Sand and Gravel, a South Dakota company, that the president preferred. Fisher has a $ 400 million contract to build a section of a new barrier in Arizona, a price that is under review by the Department of Defense’s Inspector General.
The Post has obtained a copy of the paint estimates produced by federal procurement officers, and it shows costs ranging from $ 500 million for two coats of acrylic paint to more than $ 3 billion for a “powder coating.” »Quality on the 30-foot steel bollards of the structure, the high-end of the options identified by the authorities.
The White House has yet to choose a paint grade, but Trump has been insisting for years that the barrier be black to discourage climbers. He favored a so-called “flat black” or “matt black” shade because of its heat-absorbing properties.
President promoted border wall tweets as well as private conversations in recent weeks, aid workers say, amid criticism over the administration’s management of the coronavirus pandemic. It also boasted the structure – as well as its efforts to block immigration – as a defense against the virus and a benefit to public health.
Trump has made the border wall a pillar of his re-election, promising to complete 500 miles early next year, a goal that will force crews to almost double their pace in the months to come. According to the latest CBP data, the crews have already traveled about 175 miles of new barriers.
The White House declined to comment. A White House official speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters said that Trump believed black paint would make the structure more difficult to assemble and less likely to rust. CBP did not respond to requests for comment on Trump’s decision to paint the wall.
The steel used for the project is designed to be weather resistant, with a lifespan of 30 years, despite exposure to intense solar radiation and extreme temperature changes. Painting the milestones would add significant costs to what is already one of the most expensive federal infrastructure projects in US history.
The White House has so far obtained about $ 15 billion for the project, two-thirds of which has been diverted from Defense Department construction and drug-fighting programs. CBP projections indicate that the money will pay for about 731 miles of new barriers, but these estimates did not take into account the President’s painting plans.
Project officials said the paint job could slow the pace of construction, as teams will have to return to already completed sections of the barrier, which quickly oxidizes to an orange hue with exposure to the elements .
The engineers also note that painting sections already fixed in concrete and weathered will be much more expensive than painting the terminals before putting them in place.
“Painting it before installation would cost less,” said Ed Zarenski, a retired Massachusetts construction cost estimator who has worked on major public works projects. “Otherwise, you will have to use a dump truck on both sides of the barrier. “
An official familiar with the plans said it was unclear how the paint crews would operate on the Mexican side of the fence, where only a narrow strip of land separates the two countries. Painters should potentially apply the black coating using a specialized ramp long enough to extend up and over the barrier on the American side.
The Trump administration had a section of the new fence in California painted black last year, at a cost of about $ 1 million per mile, but American troops provided the labor for this effort, reducing costs.
Private contractors are estimated to charge approximately $ 1.2 million per mile to apply two coats of acrylic paint. This is by far Trump’s cheapest option, but documents note that repairs to the structure will be impossible to match with acrylic paint, making welds and other patches obvious and unsightly.
Scars are certainly a factor in high traffic border regions. The Post reported last month that contraband teams in the San Diego area had broken into the new terminal fence 18 times in a month last year.
Other mid-range paint options include a military-grade epoxy coating and a sealant used for dams, canals and other water infrastructure projects, known as System 21, the documents said. It is very resistant to abrasion and rust and is suitable for welding, but the cost would be at least $ 4.5 million per mile.
Even more expensive would be a black powder coating, a process commonly used for painting cars and devices because of its elegant appearance. It would cost $ 6.8 million per thousand to apply, according to government estimates.
Trump told military commanders and border officials to research different painting options and to consult with Fisher in particular.
Last year, after Senator Kevin Cramer (RN.D.) heavily promoted Fisher to the president as a cheaper option for building the border wall, Trump urged employees to give the company a construction contract . The North Dakota company and its owner donated to Cramer and the president, and the company sued the government when its border wall offers were not accepted.
The United States Corps awarded the company a contract worth up to $ 400 million in December to complete 31 miles of new barriers along a National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. After lawmakers voiced concerns about the White House’s interference in the procurement process, the Pentagon’s inspector general said he would verify Fisher’s deal.
An administration official working on the project said that Trump’s mention of Fisher at a recent meeting on the wall project was not an attempt to influence the painting contract, but rather reflected his opinion on the company and its CEO, Tommy Fisher, whom the president sees as an innovative thinker and a loyal supporter. Fisher’s lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.
At the same White House meeting, Kushner expressed frustration at the pace of land acquisition in the Rio Grande valley in south Texas, where the Trump administration is preparing to seize hundreds of plots private land to owners who refused to sell.
Trump’s son-in-law, who is also at the center of the administration’s response to the pandemic, has been tasked with overseeing construction. He expressed frustration with this role at the meeting, telling others that the wall was not his favorite project, but that he was the only one who could do it.
A White House official said Kushner was only repeating that the wall’s progress had been much slower – and had produced less coverage than Trump wanted – before Kushner took over. The White House refused to discuss Kushner’s statement.
Three officials aware of the meeting said Kushner complained that current companies hired to help acquire land were not moving fast enough, and urged military commanders and border officials to work with more large companies capable of providing a wider range of services, such as investigation, title work, appraisals, conviction records and design.
The administration plans to build about 150 miles of new barriers along the banks of the lower Rio Grande, where almost all of the land is in private hands.
Raini Brunson, spokesman for the Corps of Army Engineers, confirmed this week that the agency had asked other real estate companies for information.
“In response to new demands and changing market conditions, the United States Corps of Engineers regularly solicits industry feedback to inform future acquisition strategies,” she said.
As the White House border wall meeting ended, Trump was shown photos and graphics of the wall, and was pleased to learn that crews remain on track to travel nearly 500 miles in November.
About 75 new linear kilometers have been added since the start of the year, so contractors will more than double the pace of construction in the coming months to achieve this goal.