Wall of shipping containers at border is a $95 million political stunt

Las Vegas Sun (December 15, 2022) by Tim Stellar

As you walk or drive along Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s new container wall on the border, it looks out of place in the wilds of Cochise County, but naggingly familiar.

Is it a new amusement park — Containerland? No, something else …

Then it hits: The wall looks like a long freight train that has lost its wheels, snaking four miles across the borderlands and abandoned in the mud.

The absurdity is apparent: This abandoned freight train, costing Arizona taxpayers up to $95 million, will not stop people from crossing the border. For all the illegal environmental destruction that Ducey is causing, the gain will be negligible.

At each of the high and low spots along this bumpy terrain, a triangular gap is naturally left between adjacent containers, as they meet at angles. Some of these gaps are large — plenty large enough for people to walk through.

The contractors have tried to solve this problem by welding sheet metal across some of the gaps. This is the kind of measure that will likely get the contractor AshBritt Inc., paid, but it will last only as long as a determined crosser wants it to.

A few swift blows with a sledge hammer, or a few quick cuts with a blade or torch, and those pieces of plate metal will be gone. Then the whole purpose of the container wall is defeated.

This is without even using a ladder or other implement to climb up and over the containers — also a possibility. The containers are topped with concertina wire, but that is easily cut with the right tool. Cutting open the containers themselves should also be doable.

There is even a deep stream bed where the slope is too steep to put containers, so the old vehicle barriers remain for a few hundred yards.

In the end, Containerland is just a bulkier, costlier, more environmentally damaging vehicle barrier than the one that already exists along this stretch of border.

So if it can so easily be defeated, what is the purpose of it? My best guess: A political symbol of “doing something” about the border. Of course, the symbolism could be important for a politician like Ducey.

His willingness to take charge of Arizona’s border with Mexico by standing up to the federal government, which has said the container placement is illegal and dangerous, may appeal to many Republican primary voters.

But Ducey’s political effort comes at a serious cost. There’s the financial burden to Arizona taxpayers — up to $95,141,304 if the whole project is carried out. All for what amounts to a political gesture.

Even if the whole project is not carried out, it will inevitably be removed, something that is explicitly excluded as part of AshBritt’s contract. Either the courts will rule the container wall is illegal (it obviously is) or the new governor, Democrat Katie Hobbs, will have the containers removed on her own, making the political gimmick even more expensive for Arizona taxpayers.

And that’s forgetting the wanton environmental destruction. Crews have damaged roads, torn down oak trees, leveled wide staging sights for storing equipment and containers, and, of course, placed the containers in a wild area enjoyed by hunters and hikers, campers and bikers. Except in the stream bed, the containers block the movement of most larger animals.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the people who have started hanging out at the wall, stopping contractors from continuing their work. A handful of younger activists even stopped work just after midnight on a recent Wednesday, standing in front of a bulldozer when the contractors tried to sneak a few hours of work in the middle of the night.

Kate Scott, who lives in nearby Lyle Canyon, helped launch the protests. She said, “There comes a time in your life when you say, ‘Enough.’ Enough destruction of the environment, enough destruction of wildlife habitat.”

By looking at her, you might expect Scott to be the type of person to stand in front of an excavator. Not so much Bill Scheel. He is from Phoenix and was chief of staff to former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon. He was wearing a neat sweat jacket and had a close shave as he told me how he got involved.

“My son and I are hikers, and we’ve been hiking the Arizona Trail in segments,” he said. “This is like true civil disobedience, except it’s not civil disobedience because the law is on our side.”

Yes, the law seems clearly against Ducey being able to unilaterally drop hundreds of containers on federal land. While detractors like me see that as a bad thing, from Ducey’s political perspective, that could actually be good.

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