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Washington — U.S. Customs and Border Protection has contracted with four companies to build concrete prototypes of potential designs for President Donald Trump’s promised wall along the southwest border with Mexico.

Construction of the prototypes, which could begin in the next few weeks, is the first step in the Trump administration’s plans to design and build a wall along the 2,000-mile border.

Ronald Vitiello, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, called the awards a “significant milestone” in his agency’s implementation of Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order on immigration and border security improvements.

“Through the construction of prototypes, we are partnering with the industry to identify the best way to build new and replacement infrastructure along our border before we make further investments,” said Vitiello, who is also acting deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

“This is the first tangible result of the actionable planning going on.”

The companies are Caddell Construction Co LLC of Montgomery, Alabama; Fisher Industries of Tempe, Arizona; Texas Sterling Construction Co. of Houston; and W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co. of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

The agency plans to build four to eight prototypes on federal property near the San Diego border fence so agents can test and evaluate the design in a real-world border setting.

The companies named Thursday will build reinforced concrete prototypes. Next week, the agency will announce awards for contractors to construct prototypes with alternative materials, Vitiello said.

Federal specifications called for the prototypes to be up to 30 feet high and 30 feet long, physically imposing and must guard against the digging of tunnels for at least 6 feet below the surface.

At the border, the agency envisions an electronically monitored enforcement zone that’s 150 feet wide, buffeted on one side by the wall and a bollard-style fence on the other.

Officials have said that wall designs may vary along the border, depending on the demands and topography of individual areas.

Vitiello said the agency will decide on a final prototype based on value, anti-climb features and aesthetics, as well as how agents would use technology within the wall.

The range for each contract announced Thursday is from just under $400,000 to just under $500,000, Vitiello said.

Congress hasn’t allocated money for the border wall, but earlier this year approved $20 million for the prototypes and other border-related security.

CBP had solicited proposals in March – one request for a reinforced concrete wall design and another request for alternative designs. The agency received hundreds of proposals and narrowed down their selections to a list of less than 20 bidders in the spring.

The agency had initially hoped to begin construction on the prototypes in June, but the process took longer than anticipated.

A protest filed over the contract awards by PennaGroup LLC of Fort Worth, Texas, was dismissed Friday by the Government Accountability Office because PennaGroup hadn’t filed by the appointed deadline. The GAO had also dismissed other pending protests.

Vitiello said unsuccessful bidders will have another opportunity to protest after the contracts are awarded, which could further delay construction.

Trump said in August his administration would waive environmental and other reviews in order to build the barriers along the border near San Diego. Critics including the Center for Biological Diversity said the move would threaten the environment.

“Trump’s border wall obsession is spinning out of control,” Brian Segee, a senior attorney with the center, said in a statement.

“These prototypes are the first step toward a wall that will endanger wildlife and habitat, increase human suffering, sow division and become a monument to Trump’s hate and ignorance.”

It’s unclear when or whether Congress will come to a consensus on funding the full-scale border wall, which is tied up in a debate over cost and whether a border wall would be effective or even ethical.

mburke@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8736

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