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Sun, Dec. 08

Volunteers, donations mount to build border fence

PHOENIX -- Volunteers already are stepping forward to donate time, money and materials to let Arizona build its own border fence, a Republican legislator said Tuesday.

Rep. Steve Smith of Maricopa said more than 5,000 people already have made donations to the special fund lawmakers authorized earlier this year. And he said total donations now are in the $300,000 range.

Smith acknowledged that won't build much. But he told members of a special legislative border security panel that the real help is going to come from those who can actually do the work -- and are willing to do it a lot cheaper than what the federal government is paying

"We have a manufacturer who can do a (pedestrian) fence at $426,000 a mile, from every last nut, bolt and screw that goes into it, which is significantly, significantly under cost,' Smith said. He said while that just covers the materials, he believes a separate firm will actually install the fence for not much more, perhaps bringing total cost to $500,000 a mile.

That compares with testimony to the same panel from Chris Rogers. He is manager of construction for Arizona projects for California-based Granite Construction.

More to the point, his firm has contracts with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for more than $400 million in fencing and associated projects.

Rogers told committee members that part of the cost depends on the type of fence build.

The most expensive, he said, are those designed to keep pedestrians from crossing the border in urban areas.

"The range to build these is $2.5 million to $16.5 million a mile,' he said. "And that is with the government supplying material.'

Mike Tatusko, the project manager, said more than just building a fence is involved. There also are questions of terrain and access.

One project, with just 3 1/2 miles of fence, involved construction of a road along the border for patrolling, including five bridges. Being a remote location, that also required portable concrete plants. That, he said, was the one which ran $16.5 million a mile.

Conversely, Tatusko said his firm managed to put together 19 miles of pedestrian fences for just $43 million.

"It's just a factor of the terrain and the conditions,' he said.

Other pedestrian fences for more rural areas, Rogers said, can be built for less. He said his firm put up 11 miles of mesh fence for about $3.5 million a mile, even without the government providing the steel.

And vehicle fences -- those designed solely to keep cars and trucks from crossing but not blocking people and animals -- can be built for as little as $250,000 a mile. But that is not what Smith has in mind.

Smith said, though, there are ways around many of those costs.

He said he got an e-mail several days ago from someone in England who said he has vacation time coming up and wants to fly to Arizona to volunteer, "anything you need me to do.'

Smith also said he has made arrangements with a public relations firm in Washington, D.C. to start a nationwide media effort to raise money, with no up-front cost to the state.

"We certainly expect a high volume of level of donations to come in,' he said.

Smith said he believes that, on average, the state can build fencing for about a tenth of what Homeland Security is having to pay contractors.

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