President Trump's multi-billion-dollar project to build a wall along the US-Mexico border has reached a new stage.
Proposals flooded in this week from companies interested in building parts of the wall.
Solutions include, reports the LA Times, a wall that functions as a venue for engraving memorials or family trees (Manatts Construction Co., a Johnston, Iowa-based contractor); a wall with a monorail on top that could help revitalize cities on both sides of the border (National Consulting Service of National City, Calif.); and a wall with massive solar panels to cut down on the cost and to help fill infrastructure needs for the Border Patrol (Gleason Partners, based in Las Vegas.)
There are hundreds of companies — many based in California — who have shown interest in some part of the project, which could cost about $25 billion.
The Department of Homeland Security is asking for two different barriers: a concrete wall and one to be made of a material applicable to the more challenging terrain, such as river and cliff face.
It has to be "aesthetically pleasing" on the American side and 30 feet high, and resistant to climbing, tunneling under or powering through with heavy machinery.
Russ Baumgartner is the CEO of Concrete Contractors Interstate, a company that has been based in San Diego County for more than 30 years.
He said he submitted his interest because there's already a wall at the California-Mexico border and he'd like to see it improve:
"There is a wall there and it's extremely an ugly wall. And so you know the RFP came out and said that they were going to do some wall replacements. They were going to extend some walls and they were going to make some new walls. So we got excited when we heard, hey, they're going to replace some of these ugly walls. And we have the perfect system to replace those walls with," Baumgartner said.
He wants it to be attractive on both sides, not just the American side.
"I have a personal belief that if you build a wall, you go ask your neighbor how they want their side to look," he said.
He points out that he'd like to build a replacement wall, not a new one. One of the many mystifying parts of this project is that there already is a wall.
Urban planner Michael Dear, author of Why Walls Won't Work: Repairing the US-Mexico Divide, has walked it and told DnA 650 miles of the 2,000 mile border are already protected by steel structures, wire mesh fence and barbed wire. Construction started around 2006.
The unbuilt parts are where you have the unbuildable Rio Grande and cliff face. Then you have parts that run through private property in Texas, where the US government will have to use eminent domain. That means Trump taking on Texas property owners.
The other piece of all this is the political angle. There's blowback for those who submit their interest. The project is so unpopular in California that some cities say they'll try to bar companies from city contracts if they help build the wall.
Some Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation to divest the state employee pension fund from any businesses that work on it.
This is deterring the major construction companies from submitting. Even the company that built much of the existing barrier -- Michael Baker International -- reportedly did not submit this time around.
Some Latino owned companies even received death threats.
But Mark Uribe, head of De La Fuentes Construction, told DnA as he prepared to submit an application, ""There's work and there's politics. We build."
Baumgartner's company has many Latino workers and he asked his staff to find out if they were okay with applying. He's says that they mostly said yes, on the grounds that they want the company to have the work.
Then the other piece that raises questions is that border crossings have already dropped. By 2015 more Mexicans were returning than arriving. And last month you had the lowest number of people coming in, in 17 years.
Add to that the lack of money to pay for this supposed wall. The President's own Office of Management and Budget director, Mick Mulvaney, estimates a cost of $8 to $25 million per mile.
So Trump has proposed slashing the budgets of the US Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration by double-digit percentages, among other agencies. Which of course puzzles people as those agencies help secure borders.
So one wonders if the whole thing is a charade by Trump to please his supporters.
We asked Baumgartner if he believes the project is real.
"Tell you the truth, no. I'm not confident that it will ever come to fruition. There might be some some walls built early on. But no I'm not confident that that will happen," he said.
Winners are expected to be picked by June and then there's going be 30 days to build a mock-up and prototype on federally-owned land in San Diego County, constructed within 120 feet of the border. According to the Associated Press, the government anticipates spending $200,000 to $500,000 on each prototype.
Photo: Concrete Contractors Interstate proposes a polished concrete wall, profiled by wave designs on the top of the wall, enhanced with wave-like aggregates made of native rocks, pebbles or recycled glass. (Concrete Contractors Interstate)
Photos: The many possible shapes of Trump's border wall (NPR)
Many big construction firms not bidding on Trump's proposed wall
Trump's border wall just got real: the builders have submitted their plans