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What Funding For The Wall Means For The Military


Military communities around the country are looking at the potential impact the president's emergency declaration might have on them. San Diego is a border town with a large military population. Officials there are adding up the cost of stopping or delaying hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of projects for the Navy and Marines in order to build a wall on the southern border.

Here's Steve Walsh from member station KPBS.

STEVE WALSH, BYLINE: Mark Balmert heads the San Diego Military Advisory Council, which looks at the local impact of the military. By midmorning Friday, he was fielding questions about the Trump administration's decision to pull 3.6 billion from the military construction budget to add to the wall along the border.

MARK BALMERT: These facilities are built by private contractors, and their businesses will take a hit. Their employees can take a hit, too. So there will be some impact.

WALSH: San Diego is a major West Coast hub for the Navy and Marines, a place where one in five jobs is tied in some way to defense.

BALMERT: We don't know what that impact is, so the uncertainty alone starts to hit each household.

WALSH: Construction projects are underway to house the F-35 fighter. A new pier for the Navy could be on the chopping block, along with hundreds of smaller projects set to begin this year.

Democrat Mike Levin is a first-term congressman whose district covers Camp Pendleton. The Marines have been under fire to improve water quality at the base after tests detected the same bacteria found in human and animal waste. A $48 million project to improve drinking water is set to get underway.

MIKE LEVIN: There's no question there's a direct and indirect economic implication of all of this. But my primary consideration is the safety and security of our country, and the president is stealing billions from a number of very important military construction projects.

WALSH: The House Appropriations Committee released a long list of construction projects, including 124 million in projects on Camp Pendleton alone. Levin had just touched down in San Diego after spending the week in Washington. Like most members of Congress from military towns, Levin expected to spend the weekend fielding questions from constituents in and out of the military.

Minutes after the president announced he was declaring the state of emergency, California announced the state would challenge the decision in court. In a press conference, Governor Gavin Newsom said it was a manufactured crisis.


GAVIN NEWSOM: No other state will be more harmed than the state of California because of the magnitude of the money. We're also looking at, potentially, the impact of our National Guard deployment.

WALSH: The governor had hoped to work out an agreement with the federal government to send Guard troops to help stop fentanyl and other drugs from entering California. Friday, the Trump administration announced it was pulling 2.5 billion in Department of Defense funds used for counterdrug activities to help build the wall.

Balmert says the San Diego Military Advisory Council is neutral on whether the federal government should expand the border wall. The group's focus is on lessening the impact on San Diego's economy.

Being a private contractor on a military base carries extra costs, like maintaining security clearances on every construction worker. And there's the cost to the taxpayers. If a firm has already signed a famously detailed Department of Defense contract...

BALMERT: And then the contractor has the ability, then, to come in and say, this is the cost of us stopping and restarting, and we now need a modification to our contract. So if there's a stop this year and a restart next year, the project won't be completed at the same cost. The cost will go up.

WALSH: He says no one should expect the 3.6 billion in military construction projects that the Trump administration plans to divert to the border will still cost 3.6 billion when it comes time to eventually fund them. For NPR News, I'm Steve Walsh in San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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