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Border-Wall Project Could Block San Pedro River

Conservation groups say they fear construction of a border wall across the San Pedro River could cause flooding during the rainy season and block a migration route for endangered animals. (Flickr)
Conservation groups say they fear construction of a border wall across the San Pedro River could cause flooding during the rainy season and block a migration route for endangered animals. (Flickr)
July 8, 2020

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Conservation groups say the federal government is building a stretch of the border wall that could block the San Pedro River, where it flows north from Mexico into Arizona.

The San Pedro is the last free-flowing stream in the Sonoran Desert, and the groups have said plans to extend the 30-foot-high steel barrier could damage sensitive riparian areas and cut off critical migration routes for endangered species.

Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, called the project "ill-advised" and said that, while the riverbed currently is dry, construction is starting during Arizona's rainy season.

"As soon as the monsoons start, that river literally goes from zero to a mile wide; huge amounts of force," he said. "The fact that you would try to put a structure across there just speaks to the insanity of what they're doing."

Groups including the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and others have sued the federal government several times to stop construction, and even won a judgment to block the project's funding. However, building continues as that ruling is on appeal.

Stakeholders only recently were notified about the plans to place steel posts known as bollards across the river with gates to allow the water to flow. But Laiken Jordhal, a borderlands campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the river is the only remaining animal-migration route between Arizona and Mexico.

"We know that this corridor has been used by myriad species of wildlife, likely including jaguars and ocelots," he said. "I've seen the tracks of kit foxes, coyotes, javelina in the riverbed. So, it's not speculation when we say this will stop wildlife migration."

Dan Millis, borderlands program manager for the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter, said the government's contractor, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, has been exempted by the Trump administration from most laws and regulations that normally would apply.

"Whether you care about wildlife, whether you care about religious freedom or Native American graves, all of these laws have been waived," he said. "And so, the protections don't apply. We in the border region do not get equal protection under the law."

The San Pedro crossing is part of a 63-mile border-wall project in the Tucson Sector. Customs officials have said they've built 38 miles so far, and expect to complete the project by the end of this year.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ