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First contracts awarded for AZ border wall

SIERRA VISTA — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wasted no time in awarding contracts for construction of the border wall following Friday’s ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States allowing the Trump administration to use Department of Defense (DOD) dollars to partially fund its construction.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan approved the transfer of $1.5 billion from the department to build more than 80 miles of barriers on the border, according to a press release. The ruling allows up to $2.5 billion to be allocated.

COE awarded the New Mexico firm Southwest Valley Constructors a $646 million contract to design and build the Tucson Sector barrier replacement project to be completed by January 31, 2020.

This includes the section across the San Pedro River at the border with Mexico. It is within the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA), the 57,000-acre home to unique, threatened and endangered wildlife managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

BLM Gila District manager Scott Feldhausen sent an eight–page list of comments and recommendations to Paul Enriquez, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) border wall program manager, on July 3 to address concerns with the 0.2–mile segment of proposed border barrier within the SPRNCA, as well as lands east of Douglas to the state line with New Mexico.

No design or construction plans for the proposed border wall have been shared with the BLM, so his letter contained a generalization of probable and possible impacts from alteration of the river’s hydrology as a result of the replacement of the existing vehicle barrier with a new pedestrian barrier.

“The BLM has a history of cooperation and coordination with (CBP) to solve resource-related issues associated with tactical infrastructure development on public lands along the US–Mexico border,” Feldhausen said. “Our combined efforts serve to protect these resources as we focus on reducing resource damage from the impacts of illegal border crossings.”

He pointed out the BLM manages the SPRNCA as specified by the U.S. Congress to conserve, protect and enhance the riparian area. In addition to providing recreational opportunities to the visiting public, the uncommon ecological landscape provides home to over 250 migratory bird species, 10 species listed under the Endangered Species Act as either Threatened or Endangered, 12 BLM sensitive species and 28 species of Greatest Conservation Need.

He and staff determined there “could be reduced passage of sediment and debris through ephemeral drainage paths during seasonal flood flows with the proposed pedestrian fence. Currently, seasonal removal of the Normandy-style vehicular barriers has allowed the San Pedro River to maintain natural processes.”

Water and sediment south of the barrier “could contribute to channel incision and increased erosion,” he continued. “These hydrological changes may impact the functionality of the riparian area, associated species and roads or trails adjacent to the river and downstream from the project. We anticipate that installation across the San Pedro River of a typical 18 — 30’ border barrier design could accumulate a significantly greater amount of sediment and debris than what is normally found in ephemeral drainages.”

Flood flows have high velocities and shear stresses which can remove riparian vegetation and destabilize banks, he noted.

“This extreme flow regime, coupled with the seasonal variability associated with the summer monsoons, make installation of a permanent, yet permeable, barrier an engineering challenge. Any associated changes in floodplain function could lead to reduced channel function through the redirection of flood energies,” according to Feldhausen.

He recommends the SPRNCA border barrier crossing be designed to handle large amounts of sediment and debris to minimize channel incision and erosion, which would hinder surface and subsurface river flows.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Information for Planning and Consultation database identified 21 threatened and endangered species have the potential to exist within the project area. Five of these potential occurrences warrant additional attention. Jaguar, ocelot, Mexican wolf, Mexican long–nosed bat and Mexican spotted owl may be impacted by lighting and/or physical barrier construction. Impermeable barriers may block corridors of movement for these species.

“The BLM recognizes that sediment and debris could begin to build up at an increased rate in low-water crossings during high flow events, causing backflow and erosion that could impact both natural resources and the border barrier itself,” Feldhausen wrote. “Current vehicle barriers in low water crossings along the 20–mile stretch in Cochise County proposed for new construction have already shown build up.”

He also recommended the CBP design the fence appropriately to counter impediments to proper hydrologic discharge across low–water crossings, while still providing connectivity to the sky island archipelago to the north, a valuable habitat for many species.

Surface–disturbing fence construction activities should be confined to the Roosevelt Reservation, the 60–foot buffer between the U.S. and border, to the “greatest extent practicable.” Periodic monitoring of the project area should be conducted.

Feldhausen addressed road impacts and requested no work be done to improve primitive roads. He suggested construction should “incorporate periods of inactivity” during the monsoon season from mid–July through mid–September to prevent damage.

“We appreciate the opportunity to coordinate with CBP on the proposed installation of new barriers on BLM–managed public lands in Southern Arizona that will reduce damage from illegal border crossings over important natural and cultural resources,” he concluded. “Advance coordination on actions will help facilitate CBP and BLM responsibilities for open, continuous and ongoing consultation.”

Sheriff, county supervisors plead with lawmakers to help secure border

BISBEE — Frustrated Cochise County supervisors told lawmakers from around the country on Wednesday to stop paying empty compliments to the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, and start sending federal money that would support law enforcement officials here and in neighboring regions continue their fight to secure the border.

Cochise County Supervisor Ann English addressed a handful of Republican U.S. Representatives who attended a roundtable at the sheriff’s office on Judd Road early Wednesday. The session was designed to show the members of Congress how Cochise County is working to secure the border and stem the flow of undocumented individuals and drug mules.

“What you can see here is that we have a problem that should be a shared problem instead of a Cochise County problem,” English told the lawmakers. “We need solutions from the federal government. You tell us, ‘Hey, you’re doing a really good job.’ Well, just because we’re doing a good job, you’re going to keep letting us do a good job?”

“You’re going to keep giving us atta boys? No. Send money. We need help and support,” English added.

County Supervisor Tom Borer echoed the sentiment: “It’s great to see your faces here to take our story back, but we’ve got to get those people (federal officials) coming down here so they can understand the full gravity of what this department and what this county is up against.”

The county supervisors spoke after a sobering presentation by Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Tim Williams, who heads the agency’s Southeast Arizona Border Region Enforcement/Ranch Patrol division, which includes Williams and three other deputies.

The lawmakers who attended the round table included: U.S. Representative Jody Hice (R-GA); U.S. Representative Randy Weber, (R-TX); U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter, (R-CA); U.S. Representative Denver Riggleman, (R-VA); U.S. Representative Steve King, (R-IA); and U.S. Representative Andy Biggs, (R-AZ). Arizona House of Representatives member Gail Griffin also attended.

Williams’ presentation included not only statistics for SABRE’s efforts over the last two years, but also photographs of drug smugglers crossing the desert, as well as groups of undocumented individuals dressed in camouflage who want to pass undetected so they can enter the U.S. and vanish.

“That’s something we started to see a little bit different,” Williams said referring to the camouflaged people. “I know in some other parts of the country and in the state of Arizona, there are individuals who come in the hundreds and just sit down.”

“They (new groups) are not coming over and just sitting down. A lot of times they’re hard core felons. They know they can’t get asylum and they’re just trying to stay out of the system. They’re trying to stay under the radar. They just want to get into our country and kind of disappear.”

The problem is, Williams said, residents and others who venture out to birdwatch or hike are starting to run into some of the undocumented individuals. On top of everything else, a lot of the people who are not caught, have left behind discarded camouflage and other refuse that has left the desert landscape littered and filthy, Williams said.

Aside from the photographs, the statistics gathered by SABRE since January 2017 paint a stark and realistic picture of the dismal situation on the border, and the effort to secure it on the local level.

Since January 2017, SABRE has made 66 felony arrests and seized 6,182 lbs. of marijuana. Cameras in the virtual system used by the Sheriff’s Office have captured images of 3,146 undocumented aliens and 209 drug mules.

So far this year, the number of images captured by the cameras of undocumented aliens crossing the desert more than tripled in June, compared to the same month last year. In June 2018, 100 images were caught by the cameras, while this past June it climbed to 444. Of those, 157 individuals were arrested. The camera images of drug mules for this June and June 2018, were the same at 10. Of those, one was arrested.

Sheriff Dannels reminded lawmakers that laws passed in Cochise County that call for prosecuting drug smuggling juveniles as adults have helped to keep drug mules at bay. Dannels said drug cartels are aware and have begun skirting Cochise County in favor of other ports of entry.

English pointed out that Dannels has secured private funding several times for equipment, technology, etc., to continue the border securing effort. But she also argued that no government agency should have to rely on private funds to get its work done.

Weber, (R-TX), said he heard the plea for help and will do what he can to get something done in Congress for Cochise and surrounding counties.

“We are seeing things that are so bad,” he said. “Yes, your heart breaks to see these young kids, these young girls, these young guys, the families who want to come over for a better life. But they need to do it legally.”

Asked how he will help, the congressman said: “We’ll do it all over Facebook, we’ll do it on the House floor. We will make this case over and over again.”