President Donald Trump's pet project—his border wall—was a center point of his 2016 campaign.
Many of those 2016 campaign promises were not kept, but Trump remained adamant he get his 30 foot high wall—not a fence—no matter what. Trump ended up with bollard fencing—the design used by the previous administration after over $20 million was spent on wall prototypes that all failed in testing and proved to be as impractical as experts said they would be before the money was spent.
Mexico paid for neither the bollard fencing or the failed wall prototypes that the Trump administration eventually tore down and hauled away for another few million dollars.
Now Trump is demanding at least another $500 million be spent to paint his fence black according to The Washington Post.
The bollard fencing being used is already a dark color. The steel used has a 30-year service life and is weather resistant despite exposure to solar radiation and extreme temperature changes that occur in a desert environment. Painting it all black would increase the solar heat retention by less than 10 percent.
Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security officials believed they had talked the President out of the unnecessary paint job. With the majority of the funds for Trump's border fence being pulled from the Defense Department's budget cancelling numerous long awaited military construction projects like housing, schools and hospitals and security for United States' military bases in the USA and abroad, the Pentagon has been involved in the fencing contracts and project execution.
The original fencing plans left the black paint out of the project because experts from all departments deemed it unnecessary and a massive long term burden to maintain. While the unpainted fence would require no surface maintenance for 30 years, the painted fence would require almost constant costly touch ups.
An official involved in the border fence planning discussions said:
"POTUS has changed his mind and now wants the fence painted. We are modifying contracts to add."
Aides were reportedly told to seek input from North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel. Fisher S&G's $400 million contract to build a section of new fencing in Arizona is under review by the Department of Defense inspector general for violating federal contract award laws.
Painting estimates that federal contracting officials produced show costs ranging from $500 million for two coats of acrylic paint to more than $3 billion for a premium "powder coating" according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
Trump has been talking about a black fence since 2018.
He believes only a black fence will work because of personal experience. The President shared a story about one of his golf clubs and a snack shop with a black granite countertop. When his group of golfing partners ordered food and drinks the countertop was so hot it momentarily burned their arms.
Because of this golf club hot dog stand, the President thinks the $500 million to $3 billion dollar black fence paint will make his fence impossible to climb despite experts telling him otherwise.
Rick Duncan, a materials engineer who works for trade associations and specializes in rooftop coatings said:
"It won't make much of a difference. There's no technical reason to paint it to make it hotter."
He also pointed out black paint will fade to pale grey in the sun and actually be less effective than the dark color that the bare metal already has, meaning a painted fence will need to be repainted often to ensure it isn't less effective.
Trump pulled about $15 billion for his pet project so far with two-thirds diverted from Defense Department construction funds and counternarcotics programs. Of the 1,954 miles of the US Mexico border, Customs and Border Patrol estimates the money will pay for only 731 miles of new barriers without any paint.
And going back to paint what is already done presents more challenges.
Ed Zarenski, a retired construction cost estimator in Massachusetts who worked on large public works projects told The Washington Post:
"Painting it before it's installed would be cheaper. Otherwise you'll have to run a bucket truck on both sides of the barrier."
This presents another issue as the fencing was placed with only a small strip of land on the Mexican side. Crews would either need permission from the government of Mexico to perform painting operations on Mexican soil or crew would have to use a specialized boom long enough to extend up and over the barrier from the United States' side.
When Trump had a section of new barrier in California painted black last year the cost was about $1 million per mile with United States military troops providing the labor. Paying workers to do the job would increase costs further.
The cheapest paint option would cost an additional $1.2 million per mile in labor costs for two coats of acrylic paint on top of the paint and equipment costs.
Other paint options range from an additional $4.5 million to $6.8 million per mile.
Just as the experts noted with Trump's promised border wall, no part of the painting plan is efficient, necessary or effective.