BISBEE — The letter from the Cochise County Board of Supervisors supporting U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s efforts to obtain the plans for the border barrier along the San Pedro River has led the congresswoman to once again knock on doors at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Supervisors Tom Borer, Ann English and Peggy Judd approved the letter in the Feb. 12 meeting and heard from a number of dismayed constituents who asked them to seek a public meeting to discuss the plans for the border wall across the San Pedro River.
On Jan. 26, Hands Across the River, a peaceful assembly organized to show community support for continued respect and regard for the river’s importance to the unique ecosystem it supports, brought several hundred people from across the county and beyond down to the river in Hereford.
Their displeasure with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is in charge of the construction, was made clear when the following day, with no set plans and no public input, the bulldozing of land and cutting of cottonwood trees continued as an overwhelming cry went out to local and federal electeds.
In Cochise County, areas of concern include the San Pedro River and the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge (SBNWR), both of which are being impacted by the construction, not just through the clearing of land, but also tapping into the limited water supplies of aquifers and springs.
Kirkpatrick already sent two letters, one in November and one in January, to Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf in regard to the river crossing as well as the barrier across the SBWR and has received no replies from his office.
In a Feb. 12 press release, she accused the DHS of “stonewalling Congressional inquiries” and criticized the “lack of responsiveness.”
Further, she wrote, “The San Pedro River is a precious treasure and we must do everything possible to protect it. Building a border wall without hearing from the people who know the river is not a good policy and it is not how the government is supposed to work. If our government agencies want to be credible, they must be accountable and transparent with the community. DHS needs to remember that it is a government entity — paid to serve the people with taxpayer funds — and it should be forthcoming about a project of this magnitude.”
As for the SBNWR, Kirkpatrick noted, “The ecosystem is extremely fragile, and steps must be taken to mitigate the environmental damage that will inevitably come from a construction project like this. We have serious concerns about this project and we deserve some answers.”
While she stated she and her constituents understand the DHS authority to waive environmental laws to expedite the construction, they “also believe the DHS has the authority to engage state and local agencies and the public” in its plans for needed boots on the ground input. Once federal, state and local agencies see the details, minus any classified electronic monitoring information, she asks for the plans to be shared with citizens for their review and comment.
Kirkpatrick stated, “I, like my constituents, appreciate the need for border security and want to have a constructive dialogue with you and staff in the Tucson sector about the barrier.”
Additionally, Kirkpatrick wrote, the DHS should “establish ongoing monitoring of environmental conditions resulting from the border barrier on the San Pedro River, including wildlife behavior and movement, to identify needed corrections.”
As of Feb. 10, Joe Curren, CBP spokesperson, said the plans for the pedestrian barrier across the San Pedro River in the SPRNCA had not been finalized. When the plans are finalized, the public will be informed, though he did not have any details about what information will be offered.
With no public input, the 30-foot tall bollard wall has been installed across parts of Texas, New Mexico, California and Arizona despite concerns raised by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Injunctions have been filed to stop construction on behalf of these lands and the wildlife which call them home to no avail since President Trump has allowed the DHS Secretary to waive all environmental and cultural laws, which has been supported by the courts so far.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Animal Legal Defense Fund, Defenders of the Wildlife and Southwest Environmental Center made a final effort to halt construction through a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari recently. It asked the U.S. Supreme Court Justices to determine if President Trump and the DHS overstepped their executive powers in the waivers of the National Environmental Protection Act and other regulatory protections of cultural and archeological heritage. The justices will decide to hear the case, or not, sometime this year.