Construction begins on Trump’s border wall prototypes

At the corner of Enrico Fermi Drive and Via De La Amistad, everyone entering the border wall construction area for the prototype walls is checked before entering.


By KRISTINA DAVIS AND GREG MORAN | The San Diego Union-Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 28, 2017

SAN DIEGO — Crews broke ground Tuesday on eight border wall prototypes in a fenced-off area in Otay Mesa that is expected to be a construction zone for the next 30 days, U.S. officials confirmed.

Four of the prototypes will be made of concrete while the other four will be made of alternate materials. All of the models will be between 18 to 30 feet high and 30 feet long.

“We are committed to securing our border and that includes constructing border walls. Our multipronged strategy to ensure the safety and security of the American people includes barriers, infrastructure, technology and people,” Ronald Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement Tuesday. “Moving forward with the prototypes enables us to continue to incorporate all the tools necessary to secure our border.”

Access to the site was restricted Tuesday. San Diego police officers and county sheriff’s deputies were out in force at intersections and along streets.

Water tankers went in and out of the entrance to the building site, where work was already underway kicking up dust clouds, even with water dousing the dry and dusty location.

Authorities have been preparing the area for weeks, erecting chain-link fences, blocking road access with concrete barriers, installing security cameras and marking designated parking zones. Despite the preparations, authorities would not say when work would be starting, until now.

The site is about 1.5 miles east of Erico Fermi Drive on open land that is a mixture of public and private ownership. It is several miles east of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in a spot where the existing mesh secondary fence ends and a single barrier continues into the desert.

Police are anticipating protests. CBP officials said a free-speech area for protests would be set up nearby, but the exact location was not confirmed by sheriff’s officials. The location identified by federal officials is a dusty, unshaded, weed-choked lot overlooking Otay Mesa and more than 1.5 miles away from construction.

There were no protests as work began in the early morning and no sign of protesters as the day went on.

But the high potential for demonstrations prompted the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday to pass an ordinance to give the county the power to create special zones where knives, sticks, bats, pepper spray, bricks, and other possible weapons are temporarily prohibited.

“The danger to public safety, health and welfare posed by the presence of such items has been demonstrated from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Berkeley, California,” a memo from county lawyers to the supervisors said.

The ordinance, which takes effect immediately, allows the county’s chief administrative officer or designee to create “Temporary Area Restrictions” in unincorporated areas of the county where items that could be used as weapons are prohibited. Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor.

They approved the urgency ordinance 4-0, with Supervisor Ron Roberts not in attendance. Supervisor Greg Cox participated by teleconference from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. The board had to follow special notification procedures in order for Cox to vote remotely.

While the ordinance was written and passed in anticipation of demonstrations along the border, the zones could be established anywhere in unincorporated parts of the county. The chief administrative officer must consult with the sheriff or the sheriff’s designees before establishing one of the zones. Notices will be posted in areas subject to the restriction and on the county’s website at least 24 hours before the zone is implemented and the law is enforced.

The ordinance is intended to protect First Amendment rights while keeping people safe, Cox said.

“I think our role is to make sure we provide an area where they can demonstrate if they choose,” he said. “Obviously we want to make sure it’s a peaceful demonstration.”

The law is necessary in the often tense political climate, Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.

“This is a divisive time in our nation’s history. And frankly, we already have a border fence in San Diego so I am not sure why we were targeted to do the prototypes here in San Diego. I think Texas would have been more appropriate, but it is what it is today,” Jacob said.

The city of San Diego has a similar ordinance, and the American Civil Liberties Union said it’s lawful for governments to, in certain circumstances, restrict the size or type of sign displayed if the ability to wave a sign isn’t restricted.

ACLU’s San Diego chapter said on its website that “a city may prohibit the use of metal stakes, clubs, and pipes at rallies, parades, or demonstrations, and it may require that any wooden stakes used for signs must be 1/4 inch or less in thickness and 2 inches or less in width. But a city may not entirely prohibit the carrying of signs attached to any wooden or plastic handles.”

Signs have been used as weapons before, including a notable incident in 1976 where a protester hit David Duke, then the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, on the head with a wooden post from a sign. Duke was at Camp Pendleton to observe a legal proceeding.

The contractors for the concrete prototypes are: Caddell Construction Co., Montgomery, Ala.; Fisher Sand & Gravel Co., Tempe, Ariz.; Texas Sterling Construction Co., Houston; and W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Company, Philadelphia, Miss.

Both Caddell and W.G. Yates are also constructing walls made of “other materials,” alongside KWR Construction, Inc., Sierra Vista, Ariz., and ELTA North America Inc., Annapolis Junction, Md.

Their bids ranged between $300,000 to $500,000.

Once completed, CBP will select a winning design. The project is underway despite the lack of congressional funding for President Donald Trump’s promised wall, which would be constructed along portions of the U.S.-Mexico border.


Union-Tribune staff writer Joshua Stewart contributed to this story.

©2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune
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Heavy construction equipment is trailered in at the entrance that leads to where the prototype border walls will be constructed along the U.S.-Mexico border, on the corner of Enrico Fermi Drive and Via De La Amistad.