Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 12, 2005

Judge rules on San Diego border fence

Filed under: Border Security — by Christian Beckner on December 12, 2005

From AP, a federal judge ruled today to permit the completion of the last four miles of the triple fence in San Diego County along the US-Mexico border. Earlier in the year, Congress gave DHS the power to waive environmental laws that had blocked construction of the fence, and the court upheld the Department’s ability to exercise this power.

If DHS thinks that this is a good investment versus other border funding priorities, then I’m in favor of their ability to move forward with this, if only because it sets a bad precedent for localities to have a veto on projects with national security implications. But I have concerns about the cost:

The 2006 Homeland Security budget includes $35 million to cover most of the work.

The project would require crews to move 2.1 million cubic yards of dirt in Smuggler’s Gulch alone, or enough to fill about 300,000 dump trucks.

At $35 million for 4 miles, we’re talking around $8-$9 million per mile for this upgrade, and more if as this article indicates, that amount won’t be enough to finish it. But this site indicates that the first ten miles cost only $3 million per mile. And the very high-tech Israeli fence, which traverses some rough terrain, is approx. $2.5 million per mile by comparison, acc. to the IDF.

What explains this large price difference? Is the geography of the built and unbuilt portions of the wall completely different? Do they really need to fill in “Smuggler’s Gulch”? Below is a satellite image of the gulch via Google Earth, and there are real pictures of it here and here.

Without knowing more about the geography, the cost estimate seems high. If I’m off-base, post and let me know. But at first impression, this sounds like a project for the GAO or DHS Inspector General.

You can find good background stories on the San Diego border fence here and here. And this CRS report provides a good overview on the topic of fences along American borders.

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Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Blog Archive » FY 2007 DHS budget request: border security

February 7, 2006 @ 1:43 am

[…] $30m to complete construction of the San Diego border fence (an issue that I wrote about in December in this post). […]


Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Blog Archive » Editorial makes the economic case for a border fence

March 22, 2006 @ 1:52 am

[…] The estimate of a need for 150,000 agents with a virtual fence is a bit of hyperbole, but other than that, Hanna’s logic is sound. A comprehensive US-Mexico border fence should cost somewhere around $6 billion ($3 million/mile) with competitive bidding, using the Israeli wall as a comparable project in terms of price. (It shouldn’t have to cost as much as the San Diego border fence, given that the terrain that is much more rural and flat. If it does, then something’s wrong). Let’s assume it would then require $250 million/year in maintenance. […]

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Border fencing: questions on cost

January 8, 2007 @ 10:04 pm

[…] I’ve written repeatedly on this site about the dangers of cost inflation on border fence proposals, out of concern for a political “bait-and-switch” where the costs of fencing are initially lowballed as a means to gain public acceptance. At the same time, I think that fencing has an appropriate role in the border security system if it can be priced appropriately, and negative symbolism aside, is potentially a more cost-effective way to secure the border than other current proposals. […]

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