BISBEE — “We all breathed a sigh of relief,” said Jean Su, attorney for the Center of Biological Diversity Wednesday as word from the federal government indicated a postponement on the construction of a border wall across three environmentally sensitive areas in Arizona for 45 days.
The San Pedro River at the border was one of the sites postponed, she said. There, a 0.3–mile portion of the river was slated to have a 30-foot high wall installed and a bridge built over the San Pedro River.
According to Laiken Jordahl, borderlands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, the designs and contracts for the project have not been finalized for the river project. However, DHS plans to conduct geotechnical surveys in and around the riverbed in mid–to–late September. “That will be a prerequisite to finalization of the contract and designs.”
Jordahl continued, “Any delay in border wall construction is good news for Arizona’s treasured public lands and wildlife. Places like the San Pedro River and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument are just too special to lose, especially to an ineffective and unnecessary wall. We’ll continue to fight for border communities and wildlife with everything we’ve got.”
Court documents show the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would limit activity along the San Pedro River “to a 60–foot area adjoining the border, already disturbed from existing fencing and the adjoining road used by U.S. Border Patrol for enforcement purposes. In addition to that 60–foot area, DHS is designating certain staging areas for construction vehicles and materials.”
Jordahl said the plans for building the wall at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge have also been suspended for 45 days.
The DHS had planned to begin construction on Aug. 22 at those sites.
“In other words, we just got ourselves a de facto 45–day injunction,” said Jordahl.
The battle over the wall has been ongoing for months. When the Trump Administration decided to use non-Congressionally approved funds to build a pedestrian wall along the border with Mexico at certain places in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, necessary to stop illegal human and drug trafficking.
Conservation groups joined forces to stop the plan from moving forward.
There were several places in Arizona slated for this construction, including the San Pedro River.
Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the case went before the 9th District Court of Appeals where the judges determined the federal government had erred in choosing to ignore the will of the Congress by transfering funds from the Department of Defense and other federal agencies.
The injunction to stop construction of the wall was granted to the ACLU.
Then the federal government took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and in a 5-4 decision, the justices decided to lift the injunction giving the go ahead to the plans to construct the wall in specific places.
The conservation groups filed another suit seeking an injunction to stop the construction of the wall, but the federal government agreed to a 45-day postponement.
Though two miles slated for construction next week will proceed just east of the Lukeville Port of Entry, Jordahl pointed out that project is just to replace existing pedestrian fencing. “This area is mostly developed urban and agricultural land south of the border and doesn’t include much suitable wildlife habitat.”
On Sept. 4, a federal judge is expected to make a ruling on contested wall projects in New Mexico and Texas. The parties will have a chance to read the decision, develop responses and set a time for all to regroup before the judge.
”Today we had a glimmer of hope,” Su concluded. “They had a change of position about a week ago and we were surprised. We will continue the fight for those on the border who protest the wall.”
The conservation organizations stated in a court filing, “The federally protected lands serve as refuges to some of the last remaining populations of endangered species whose continued existence and recovery rely on the freedom of cross-border migration. Construction of border walls in these areas will not only directly damage their critical habitat, but even more importantly, will sever ecological connectivity with Mexico, undermining the very reasons for which these areas and their sister conservation parks on the Mexican side were designated.”