Footing the bill: Doug Ducey's shipping container barrier will cost Arizona taxpayers over $200M

Former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s five-month effort to close gaps along the U.S.-Mexico border with shipping containers will cost Arizona taxpayers more than $200 million.

It will cost more than $76 million to tear down the double-stacked shipping container barriers in Yuma and Cochise counties after Ducey bowed to federal pressure and agreed to remove the makeshift barriers in late December. The bill to remove the containers was first reported by Capitol Media Services.

It will cost about $57.2 million to take down the shipping containers in the Coronado National Forest in Cochise County, according to state contracts with the Florida-based emergency management company AshBritt.

The tear-down costs come on top of the initial $95 million announced for the barrier’s construction in Cochise County.

Separate costs to move shipping containers from a Sierra Vista staging area to Tucson are projected at about $9.8 million.

In August, Ducey began filling border wall gaps near Yuma, where roughly 3,000 feet were plugged with shipping containers. The project was projected to cost $6 million, but ballooned to nearly $13 million as of September, according to Ducey’s office.

It will cost roughly $9.3 million to take down the containers near Yuma. Additionally, work and transportation costs associated with Nogales-area shipping containers are estimated to ring up to about $20.5 million, per state contracts.

Ducey’s order led to a patchwork barrier of hundreds of hulking metal shipping containers dotting the Arizona-Mexico border, sometimes welded together with odd-shaped pieces of metal.

A stack of two shipping containers was found toppled near Yuma just one day after the barrier had been completed in August. In the days after the barrier’s completion, photos and videos of people climbing the containers circulated on social media as hundreds of migrants bypassed the barrier daily near Gadsden to present themselves to Border Patrol agents and request asylum.

An awkward gap is shown between shipping containers at the bottom of a wash along the border where shipping containers create a wall between the United States and Mexico in San Rafael Valley, Ariz., Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. Work crews are steadily erecting hundreds of double-stacked shipping containers along the rugged east end of Arizona’s boundary with Mexico as Republican Gov. Doug Ducey makes a bold show of border enforcement even as he prepares to step aside next month for Democratic Governor-elect Katie Hobbs.
An awkward gap is shown between shipping containers at the bottom of a wash along the border where shipping containers create a wall between the United States and Mexico in San Rafael Valley, Ariz., Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. Work crews are steadily erecting hundreds of double-stacked shipping containers along the rugged east end of Arizona’s boundary with Mexico as Republican Gov. Doug Ducey makes a bold show of border enforcement even as he prepares to step aside next month for Democratic Governor-elect Katie Hobbs.

The millions of dollars to build, maintain and remove the shipping container barriers comes from the $335 million pot within the Arizona Border Security Fund. The money was allocated for the “construction, administration, and maintenance of a physical border fence.”

Gov. Katie Hobbs’ administration did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

During Hobbs' State of the State speech on Monday, she criticized the politicization of immigration and "political stunts" used to incite media attention.

Hobbs invited Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to visit the Arizona-Mexico border with her to meet with law enforcement, nonprofits and community leaders to discuss comprehensive immigration solutions in her remarks.

More:Wildlife advocates say Ducey's new border barrier threatens fragile Arizona habitat

"Arizona voters told us in November they don’t want or need political stunts designed solely to garner sensationalist TV coverage and generate social media posts," Hobbs said in her speech.

The contract to build and tear down the barriers was awarded to AshBritt without the regular bidding process. AshBritt was awarded the contract because their solution was the “most expeditious due to the emergency nature of the work,” said Megan Rose, spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Administration.

In an email, Rose said AshBritt was recommended to the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs by their emergency management partners.

In June 2021, the founder and chairperson of AshBritt, Randal Perkins, paid the Federal Election Commission a $125,000 settlement after the company contributed to America First Action, a super PAC that supports former President Donald Trump.

A long row of double-stacked shipping containers provide a new wall between the United States and Mexico in the remote section area of San Rafael Valley, Ariz., Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. Work crews are steadily erecting hundreds of double-stacked shipping containers along the rugged east end of Arizona’s boundary with Mexico as Republican Gov. Doug Ducey makes a bold show of border enforcement even as he prepares to step aside next month for Democratic Governor-elect Katie Hobbs.
A long row of double-stacked shipping containers provide a new wall between the United States and Mexico in the remote section area of San Rafael Valley, Ariz., Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. Work crews are steadily erecting hundreds of double-stacked shipping containers along the rugged east end of Arizona’s boundary with Mexico as Republican Gov. Doug Ducey makes a bold show of border enforcement even as he prepares to step aside next month for Democratic Governor-elect Katie Hobbs.

AshBritt donated $500,000 to America First Action in 2018 while they had a contract with the Defense Department, violating a law that prohibits government contractors from contributing to political committees.

America First Action eventually refunded the contribution to AshBritt.

When asked if the Department of Administration was aware of the contribution prior to awarding AshBritt the contract, Rose said the company had no active or inactive exclusions with the System for Award Management, which was checked prior to the signing of the contract.

Toppled containers:Gov. Ducey's shipping container barrier along border toppled

Critics call border barrier a 'scar on the landscape'

Critics have dismissed the shipping container effort as a “political stunt” that has wasted taxpayer dollars. Environmental advocates criticized the barrier in the Coronado National Forest, arguing that it has damaged protected lands and severed a vital migration corridor for jaguars and ocelots.

“It's really tragic to think that all of this money has just been wasted and now we're going to see the scar on the landscape from this action for many, many years,” said Emily Burns, program director with the environmental group Sky Island Alliance.

“It's a staggering amount of money that could have been spent on so many other things.”

More than 100 oak trees were cut down and bulldozed during the first mile of border barrier construction in the Coronado National Forest, according to Burns. The installation of shipping containers in the area significantly widened the border road and blocked wash and creek beds with sediment, she added.

Robin Silver, a co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, similarly denounced the barrier for its harmful environmental effects and underscored how the millions of dollars could have been spent to support other state institutions. The money, Silver argued, could have been used to improve the immigration system in Arizona by facilitating asylum processing and increasing the number of immigration judges.

“$200 million spent in Arizona would go a long way to really helping to alleviate some of the misery that (migrants) are experiencing,” Silver said. “They're humans, that's where we should be spending our money, not on some racist stunt.”

Lawsuit filed:Federal government sues over shipping container wall at border

Ducey's barrier project was a monthslong endeavor

Ducey’s decision to remove the shipping containers came about a week after the U.S. Justice Department sued him and the state of Arizona on Dec. 14.

The federal government argued in the lawsuit that the installation of shipping containers along the border damages federal lands, threatens public safety and impedes federal officials from performing their duties. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the U.S. Agriculture and Interior departments.

Biden administration officials criticized the barrier as an unhelpful stunt in a virtual interview with The Arizona Republic when the lawsuit was filed.

“Stacking shipping containers for a photo op isn't a serious solution or helpful,” one administration official said.

The Biden administration’s lawsuit against Ducey, a Republican, is only the latest in a convoluted battle between the former governor and the federal government over the shipping containers.

In October, Ducey filed a lawsuit that sought to allow the state to continue putting shipping containers along gaps in the border after federal agencies tried to stop their installation. Ducey’s lawsuit was the culmination of back-and-forth correspondence between state and federal officials who were arguing whether or not the containers broke the law.

That same month, Ducey ordered the installation of roughly 3,000 shipping containers along more than 10 miles of land in the Coronado National Forest south of Sierra Vista. Protesters soon halted the construction of the shipping container barrier in Cochise County as they camped out in front of construction crews for days.

Gov. Doug Ducey answers questions during a press conference in front of a border gap near the Morelos Dam covered by shipping containers on Sept. 8, 2022, near Yuma.
Gov. Doug Ducey answers questions during a press conference in front of a border gap near the Morelos Dam covered by shipping containers on Sept. 8, 2022, near Yuma.

The Border Patrol will start construction to close the gaps near Yuma this week with a projected completion date of summer 2023, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The gaps near the Morelos Dam will be filled with temporary mesh fencing and vehicle gates.

“The safety and security of our workforce, law enforcement partners, and the local community are a top priority,” Patricia McGurk-Daniel, acting Chief Patrol Agent for the Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector, said in a written statement. “Yuma Sector is dedicated to working with our state, local, and tribal counterparts to ensure a multi layered approach to secure our nation’s borders and protect our local community.”

Mayorkas, the Homeland Security secretary, authorized CBP to close the gaps in the border wall near the Morelos Dam in July to address operational impacts and immediate life and safety risks.

About two weeks later, Ducey issued an executive order that authorized the state to build border barriers on federal land, citing inaction by the Biden administration. Eleven days later, 3,820 feet of gaps were filled in with 130 shipping containers.

Have a news tip or story idea about the border and its communities? Contact the reporter at josecastaneda@arizonarepublic.com or connect with him on Twitter @joseicastaneda.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Ducey's shipping container barrier to cost AZ taxpayers over $200M