Funds that the previous president had intended to pay for tall bollard fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border will now be allocated to projects such as fixing environmental damage from previous construction and redirected back to improvements at military facilities.
The Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense both released outlines today of what they plan to do with the funds that had been diverted to border wall construction by the Trump administration.
The Department of Defense announced April 30 that it canceled all border barrier construction projects paid for with diverted funds that had been appropriated for military construction and base improvements. Now, $2.2 billion of unobligated military construction funds that had been slated to help pay for the wall will be used to restore funding in FY 2021 for 66 projects including maintenance and training facilities, airfield upgrades, schools, fire stations, gun ranges and munitions depots, and working dog facilities spanning the services both at home and abroad.
The Army has been directed to use funds that had been transferred for wall construction to pay fees to terminate those contracts and to cover contractor demobilization. Any lands that had been withdrawn from the Interior Department for border construction are relinquished by DoD, and any property purchased for construction will now be under the jurisdiction of DHS.
As far as the funds allocated by Congress to DHS for wall construction, the department said it would “prioritize the remaining border barrier funds to address and remediate urgent life, safety, and environmental issues resulting from the previous administration’s border wall construction.”
In its border wall plan, DHS said it is “continuing certain discrete projects because they are urgent measures needed to avert immediate physical dangers”: those are construction and repair of 13.4 miles of compromised levee in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, and an erosion control project in the San Diego area along 14 miles of recently constructed fencing. DHS will also “explore use of its appropriated funds to address construction previously funded with Treasury Forfeiture Fund amounts” such as “grading roads and cutting slopes to resolve drainage and ponding; addressing exposed rebar; and installing canal crossings.” These projects would not require the department to acquire any additional property.
In FY 2019 DHS received $601 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund, which funds law enforcement activities, for border wall construction; DHS intends to terminate the associated contracts and return excess funds to the TFF.
For all projects other than those deemed urgent, DHS said it would return to a “multistep” environmental review process, which was bypassed by the last administration.
“DHS, working with interagency partners such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, intends to assess the extent to which border wall funds may be used to remediate or mitigate environmental damage caused by past border wall construction,” the plan says. “Opportunities for mitigation will be identified through the environmental planning process, including NEPA.” The department also vowed to undertake “robust and substantive consultation” with area stakeholders including landowners, tribes, lawmakers, and residents of border communities.
All pending eminent domain actions that began during the Trump administration to acquire land for the wall will be reassessed, including “a review of existing construction plans to determine whether they can be modified to reduce the use of land previously acquired through adverse eminent domain proceedings” and potentially return the land to its prior owners. If additional land is needed for future projects, “it is DHS’s preference to obtain real estate interests on a voluntary basis through negotiated offers to sell.”
DHS expects to absorb “potentially significant costs” when DoD turns over the incomplete border barrier projects, including undertaking stabilization measures “to ensure constructed assets are safe and stable for their expected life cycle” and finishing construction of the patrol, maintenance, and access roads as well as cleaning up areas temporarily used by construction crews — including disposing of any border wall construction materials that had not been installed.
“No new barrier construction work will occur on the DoD projects,” the plan states. “While DHS believes that some of the work described above may comport with the FY 2021 appropriations language, there may be limitations on the type of work that DHS can undertake. The specific amount of funding required will depend upon the condition of the DoD projects and the amount of work DHS can undertake.”