Science

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, preparing to leave office, stacks containers at the border

Crews working with Arizona’s remote continuously erect hundreds of double-stacked shipping containers atop razor wire Eastern border with Mexico In a bold display of border enforcement by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey Even if he is preparing to leave office.

The work largely stalled in recent days until protesters slowed it, with Ducey under pressure from the US government, environmentalists and objections from an incoming governor, who has called it a poor use of resources.

Democratic Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs said last week that it was “considering all options” and had not decided what to do about the containers after the January 5 opening. She previously suggested repurposing containers as affordable housing, an increasingly popular option for the homeless and low-income.

“I don’t know how much it will cost and what the costs will be to remove the containers,” Hobbs told Phoenix PBS TV station KAET in an interview Wednesday.

Federal agencies have declared construction on US land in Arizona illegal and ordered it to stop. Ducey responded by suing federal officials over their objections on October 21, sending the dispute to court.

border wall shipping container
A long line of shipping containers wait for installation along the border where hundreds of shipping containers form a wall between the United States and Mexico in San Rafael Valley, Ariz., Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022.

Ross D. Franklin / AP


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

“There could be a lot of damage here between now and the beginning of January,” said Russ McSpadden, a southwest conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Ducey asserted that Arizona maintains sole or shared jurisdiction over the 60-foot (18.2 m) strip on which the containers rest and has a constitutional right to protect residents from “imminent danger of criminal and humanitarian threats”.

“Arizona is going to do the thing Joe Biden refuses to do – secure the border any way we can.” Daisy said when Arizona sued the US government. “We’re not backing down.”

Federal agencies want Ducey’s complaint dismissed.

Border security was a centerpiece of Donald Trump’s presidency and remains a powerful issue for Republican politicians. Hobbs’ GOP opponent, Kari Lake, campaigned on a promise to send the National Guard to the border on her first day in office. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who was recently re-elected for a third term, has pushed for construction to continue. Trump’s Signature Wall on mostly private land along his state’s border with Mexico and has raised money to help pay for it. He has also drawn attention for settling immigrants in Democratic-led cities away from the southern border, including New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

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

Ducey’s container wall effort began in late summer in Yuma, western Arizona, a popular crossing point where asylum seekers arrive daily and often find ways to circumvent new barriers. The containerized areas were 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 commonly used by migrants and was not considered in Trump’s wall construction plan. McSpadden said he hasn’t seen migrants or Border Patrol agents there, just hikers and backpacking cyclists.

The formation there extends from oak forests in the Huachuca foothills to the southeast of Tucson and into the grasslands of the valley. By the middle of last week, cranes had hauled more than 900 blue or rusted metal containers down a dirt road recently strewn across the landscape, then stacked them along waist-high vehicle barriers 17 feet ( 5.2 m) was double stacked. Crisscrossed steel. Workers bolted the containers together and welded the sheet metal at intervals.

Nevertheless, yawning gaps remain in the new container wall, including several hundred yards (m) of open space, far too large to hold the containers. Some of the low-lying wash areas have gaps about three feet (1 m) wide.

Environmental activists demonstrating at the Cochise County site last week stopped work, standing in front of massive construction vehicles in recent days. On a recent day, a dozen protesters sat in containers or camp chairs stacked near tents and vehicles where they slept.

Work at Yuma cost approximately $6 million and covered approximately 3,800 feet (about 1,160 m) in 11 days with 130 containers. The Bureau of Reclamation told Arizona that it had violated US law by building on federal land. The Kokopa Indian Tribe also complained that the state did not seek permission to build on their adjacent reservation.

In Arizona’s southeastern Cochise County, the new project is much larger, costing some $95 million and using up to 3,000 containers to cover 10 miles (16 km). The US Forest Service told Arizona to halt its work in the Coronado National Forest, and recently alerted visitors to the potential dangers posed by construction equipment involved in the state’s “unauthorized activities”.

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

While Ducey’s lawsuit does not address environmental concerns, groups such as the center say work in the Coronado National Forest impels endangered or threatened species such as the western yellow-billed cuckoo and the Mexican spotted owl, as well as the occasional ocelot. There are also big cats.

The biologically diverse region of southeastern Arizona is known for its “sky islands” or isolated mountain ranges rising over 6,000 feet (1,828 m) above a “sea” of desert and grasslands. Wildlife cameras in this area regularly photograph black bears, bobcats, ringtails, spotted skunks, white-nosed coatis, and pig-like spears.

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

Environmentalists have warned about the dangers of placing the containers over a watershed of the San Pedro River that floods each summer during the monsoon season. Just south of the border is a protected area called Rancho Los Fresnos, which is home to beavers, an endangered species in Mexico.

Miles Trafgen, a biologist with the Wildlands Network, told a briefing on border issues last month that the damage done during the Trump administration’s border wall construction was never repaired. Last year, they mapped the Arizona and New Mexico sections of that border wall to highlight damaged areas. A report from this year highlights the areas the group considers priorities for reconstruction.

Dynamite explosions forever reshaped the remote Guadalupe Canyon in Arizona’s southeast corner. Towering steel bollards block off wildlife corridors, allowing animals such as small elf owls, pronghorns and big cats from Mexico to cross through to hunt and mate.

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