Arizona Gov. Ducey stacks containers on border at term’s end

SAN RAFAEL VALLEY, Ariz. – Work crews have steadily erected hundreds of double-stacked shipping containers topped with razor wire along Arizona’s remote western border with Mexico in a bold show of border enforcement by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey even as he prepares to leave office.

Until protesters slowed, and then he largely halted work in the past few days, Ducey pushed ahead under the objections of the US government, environmentalists and an incoming governor who called it a waste of resources.

Democratic Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs said last week that she was “looking at all options” and has not decided what to do about the containers after her inauguration on January 5. She previously advocated repurposing the containers as affordable housing, an increasingly popular option for the homeless and low-income.

“I don’t know how much it’s going to cost to remove the containers and what they’re going to cost,” Hobbs told Phoenix PBS television station KAET in an interview Wednesday.

Federal agencies told Arizona that the construction on US land is illegal and ordered it to stop. Ducey responded on October 21 by suing federal officials over their objections, taking the dispute to court.

Environmental groups say the containers could endanger natural water systems and endanger species.

“There could be a lot of damage here between now and early January,” said Russ McSpadden, a Southwest conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity who has traveled regularly to the site since late October.

Ducey argues that Arizona has sole or shared jurisdiction over the 60-foot (18.2 meter) strip where the containers lie and has a constitutional right to protect residents from “imminent danger of criminal and humanitarian crises.”

“Arizona is going to do the job that Joe Biden refuses to do — secure the border any way we can.” Ducey said when Arizona sued the US government. “We are not backing down.”

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The federal agencies want Ducey’s complaint dismissed.

Border security has been a focus of Donald Trump’s presidency and remains a major issue for Republican politicians. Hobbs’ GOP challenger, Kari Lake, campaigned on a promise to send the National Guard to the border on her first day in office. Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who was recently re-elected for a third term, is pushing to continue building Trump’s signature wall on mostly private land along his state’s border with Mexico and has crowdsourced funds to help pay for it. He has also drawn attention to busing migrants to Democratic-led cities far from the southern border, including New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, DC

Ducey’s move comes amid the largest flow of migrants to reach the border. US border officials stopped migrants 2.38 million times in the fiscal year ended September 30, a 37% increase from the previous year. The annual total surpassed 2 million for the first time in August and is more than double the highest level during the Trump presidency, in 2019.

Ducey’s containment wall effort began in late summer in Yuma in western Arizona, a common crossing point, with scores of asylum seekers arriving daily and often finding ways around the new barriers. The number of area containers left open when Trump’s 450 mile (724 km) border wall was built. But the remote San Rafael Valley — the latest construction site — is not typically used by migrants and was not considered in Trump’s wall construction plan. McSpadden said he saw no migrants or Border Patrol agents there, just backpacking hikers and bicyclists.

Construction there extends from oak forests in the Huachuca foothills southeast of Tucson and across the grasslands of the valley. As of the middle of last week, cranes had carried more than 900 blue or rust-colored metal containers down a freshly scraped dirt road into the landscape, then stacked them twice up to 17 feet (5.2 meters) high. high alongside waist-high vehicle barriers. made of crisscrossed steel. The workers belly the containers together and welded sheet metal over gaps.

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Still, there are still gill gaps in the new container wall, including an open space of several hundred yards (meters) on terrain far too steep to place the containers. In some low wash areas there are gaps almost three feet (1 meter) wide.

Environmental activists who have demonstrated at the Cochise County site for the past week have largely stopped work in the past few days by standing in front of construction vehicles. One recent day, a dozen producers sat on top of stacked containers or in camp chairs next to tents and vehicles where they sleep.

The work in Yuma cost about $6 million and wrapped up in 11 days with 130 of the containers covering about 3,800 feet (about 1,160 meters). The Arizona Bureau of Reclamation said he violated US law by building on federal land. The Cocopah Indian Tribe also complained that the state did not seek permission to build on its nearby reservation.

The newer project is much larger, costing about $95 million and using up to 3,000 containers to cover 10 miles (16 km) in southeastern Arizona’s Cochise County. The U.S. Forest Service also told Arizona to halt its work in the Coronado National Forest, and recently warned visitors about potential hazards associated with construction equipment related to the state’s “unauthorized activities.”

The Center for Biological Diversity supports the federal government’s position that the construction violates US law.

While Ducey’s law does not address environmental concerns, groups like the center say the work in the Coronado National Forest affects endangered or threatened species such as the western tawny owl and the Mexican spotted owl, as well as big cats including the occasional ocelot.

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The biologically diverse region of southeastern Arizona is known for its “sky islands,” or remote mountain ranges that rise more than 6,000 feet (1,828 meters) above “seas” of desert and grasslands. There are wildlife cameras in the region regularly photographing black bears, polar bears, elk, spotted skunks, white-nosed coats and pig-like rays.

McSpadden said the work toppled oak and juniper trees and has found spools of razor wire and other construction debris on national forest land.

Environmentalists warn of the dangers of placing containers on top of a watershed of the San Pedro River that floods during the monsoon season each summer. Just south of the border is a protected area called Rancho Los Fresnos, home to the beaver, a threatened species in Mexico.

Biologist Myles Traphagen of the Wildlands Network told a briefing on border issues last month that much of the damage done during the construction of the Trump administration’s border wall had never been fixed. Last year, he mapped the Arizona and New Mexico sections of that border wall to highlight damaged areas. This year’s report highlights the areas the group considers priorities for rebuilding.

Dynamite blasts forever reshaped the remote Guadalupe Canyon in the southeast corner of Arizona. Steel bollards towered off wildlife corridors, preventing animals like tiny owls, geese and big cats from Mexico from crossing into the US to hunt and mate.


Snow was reported from Phoenix. Follow her on Twitter: @asnowreports

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


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