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Groups Plan Suit Over Permit for San Pedro River Project

A group of environmental organizations is planning to sue the U.S. Corps of Engineers over a permit for a major development near the San Pedro River watershed in southeastern Arizona. (Charlie Schultz/Sierra Club)
A group of environmental organizations is planning to sue the U.S. Corps of Engineers over a permit for a major development near the San Pedro River watershed in southeastern Arizona. (Charlie Schultz/Sierra Club)
March 17, 2016

BENSON, Ariz. – A coalition of environmental groups says it intends to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over a permit for a major development in the San Pedro River watershed in southeastern Arizona.

The groups say the permit for the 12,000-acre Villages at Vigneto project would imperil hundreds of migratory bird species that nest in the area and is in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, says the water permit for the proposed development is out of date.

"The project was approved years ago when it was a third to a half smaller than it is now, but it was a different project permitted,” he points out. “So, when there's new information or when the project has changed, then it needs to be re-examined."

Silver says new plans for the residential and commercial project could bring as many as 20,000 homes upstream and further endanger a variety of species dependent on the last major free flowing river in the Southwest.

He says the project could increase demand on groundwater from 800 to as much as 13,000 acre-feet per year, as well as increase storm water runoff, flooding and sedimentation.

Silver says the groups have filed notice with the Corps of Engineers that they believe the permit is illegal, and hope that the agency realizes that it made a mistake.

However, he says if Corps of Engineers fails to act, the groups, which include the Sierra Club, Audubon Society and Earthjustice, will go forward with legal action.

"Ultimately, the challenge to their water certification is not a procedural challenge, but is a substantive challenge,” he stresses. “And that's ultimately where the project needs to be stopped because they are going to pump water that does not belong to them."

Congress designated the river as a riparian national conservation area in 1988.

Neither the developers, El Dorado Benson LLC nor the U.S. Corps of Engineers, responded to requests for comment.


Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ