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DHS postpones border wall construction at San Pedro River, other AZ sites

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.”

Safeguarding against mosquitoes

REGION — Arizona’s warm weather and summer rains create ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes.

Health officials advise residents to protect themselves against biting mosquitoes and the viruses they transmit by keeping their populations down with preventative measures.

“Mosquitoes can be active year-round in parts of Arizona, but they are most abundant between March and October,” said Ray Falkenberg, public information officer for Cochise Health and Social Services. “Mosquito bites can be more than just annoying and itchy — they can spread viruses that make you sick or even cause death. Whether you are spending summer here at home or traveling in the United States or abroad, the very best way to stay healthy is to avoid mosquito bites in the first place.”

Through statewide surveillance efforts, mosquitoes are trapped from mid-July to mid-October and tested for viruses. In Cochise County, traps are set in 24 different locations, said Greg McQuaide, county public health emergency preparedness coordinator, who oversees the area’s surveillance efforts.

The mosquitoes are sent to the Arizona Public Health Laboratory in Phoenix every other week for testing to determine if they are carrying the disease, McQuaide said. “Along with testing for viruses, we’re looking at environmental and weather data and how that correlates with mosquito populations.”

The two most prevalent disease-carrying mosquito species in Arizona are Aedes Aegypti and Culex.

Aedes Aegyit mosquitoes can be infected with Zika Virus, Dengue Fever Virus and Chikungunya, while Culex carry West Nile Virus and St. Louis Encephalitis.

West Nile can be fatal to horses, but there is an effective vaccine that protects horses, with veterinarians recommending vaccinations be administered in early spring or early summer for optimum protection.

In 2017, two mosquitoes in Cochise County tested positive for diseases, one for West Nile Virus and one for St. Louis Encephalitis, McQuaide said.

“During the 2018 surveillance season, no positive mosquitoes were identified,” he said.

To date, Maricopa, Pinal and Yuma counties are the only counties reporting infected mosquitoes through the surveillance testing, with Maricopa as the heaviest hit area.

Protect property

McQuaide advises residents to be responsible for eliminating areas of standing water on their property.

“Mosquitoes breed in water, so our peak mosquito season coincides with the monsoon season,” he said.

“The Aedes Aegypti mosquito is an opportunistic breeder, requiring as little as a bottle cap of of water to lay its eggs,” McQuaide said. “Be diligent about eliminating potential breeding sites around your home. Rinse out your bird baths, dog water bowls and horse watering troughs every other day. Turn water containers over to prevent water collection areas,” he said. Aedes Aegypti are found mostly in densely populated municipalities, as people are the insect’s primary meal source, he added.

“The Egypti are mosquitoes that feed on humans specifically. Their whole mission in life is to bite humans. And they are out feeding all times of the day.”

Culex mosquitoes typically breed in larger bodies of water, such as rivers, streams, lakes and ponds, and are found everywhere.

Unlike the Aegypti, they are morning and evening feeders and will bite most warm-blooded animals — dogs, cats, horses and humans.

McQuaide said the elimination of Culex mosquitoes is most effectively accomplished by using larvicides, which can be purchased at feed, hardware and big box stores.

While safe around pets, the larvicide is harmful to fish and amphibians.

Personal protection

“When you’re outside during mosquito season, stay covered up with light colored clothing,” McQuaide said. Cover your arms with long-sleeved shirts and your legs with long pants.”

Use insect repellents, even when skin is covered.

The most effective prevention against mosquito bites is the use of insect repellents.

“Other repellents work, but a 30 percent DEET insecticide is the most effective,” McQuaid said.

Make sure window and door screens are in good repair, with no holes.

“Summer months in Arizona are great for for all kinds of outdoor recreational activities,” McQuaid said. “We take mosquito prevention very, very seriously and urge residents to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves against mosquito bites. I want people to be aware, not afraid.”