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Arizona Governor Doug Ducey prepares to leave office, piles up containers at border

Work crews routinely erected hundreds of double-stacked shipping containers topped with barbed wire along the Arizona distance eastern border with Mexico in a bold show of border enforcement by the Republican governor. Doug Ducey as he prepares to leave office.

Until protesters slowed down, then largely stopped work in recent days, Ducey pressed ahead of objections from the U.S. government, environmentalists and a new governor who called it a poor use of resources.

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

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

Federal agencies told Arizona that construction on US land was illegal and ordered them to stop. Ducey responded on October 21 by suing federal officials for their objections, sending the dispute to court.

Border Wall Shipping Containers
A long row of shipping containers wait to be set up along the border where hundreds of shipping containers are creating a wall between the United States and Mexico in Arizona’s San Rafael Valley on Thursday, 8 December 2022.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

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

“A lot of damage could be done here by early January,” said Russ McSpadden, a southwestern conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, who has been visiting the site regularly since late October.

Ducey insists that Arizona has exclusive or shared jurisdiction over the 60-foot (18.2-meter) strip on which the containers rest and has the 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 it can.” Ducey said when Arizona sued the US government. “We are not backing down.”

Federal agencies want Ducey’s complaint dismissed.

Border security was at the center of Donald Trump’s presidency and remains a major issue for Republican politicians. Hobbs’ GOP rival, Kari Lake, campaigned on a promise to send the National Guard to the border on her first day in office. Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott, recently re-elected for a third term, has pushed to keep building Trump’s Signature Wall on mostly private land along his state’s border with Mexico and raised money to help pay for it. He has also drawn attention for ferrying migrants to Democratic-run cities away from the southern border, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

Ducey’s decision comes amid a record flow of migrants arriving at the border. US border officials arrested migrants 2.38 million times in the fiscal year that ended September 30, up 37% from a year earlier. The annual total topped 2 million for the first time in August and is more than double the highest level of Trump’s presidency in 2019.

Ducey’s container wall effort began in late summer in Yuma, western Arizona, a popular crossing point, with dozens of asylum seekers arriving daily and often finding ways to circumvent the new barriers. The containers filled in areas left open during the construction of Trump’s 450-mile (724 km) border wall. But the remote San Rafael Valley – the last construction site – is not generally used by migrants and was not considered in Trump’s wall construction plan. McSpadden said he didn’t see any migrants or Border Patrol agents there, just hikers and backpacking cyclists.

The construction stretches from the oak forests of the Huachuca foothills southeast of Tucson and across the prairies of the valley. By the middle of last week, cranes had hauled more than 900 blue or rust-colored metal containers down a freshly scraped dirt road across the landscape, then stacked them up to 17 feet (5.2 meters) high on along vehicle barriers at waist height. of criss-cross steel. The workers bolted the containers together and welded sheets over the gaps.

Yet gaping gaps remain in the new container wall, including an open space of several hundred yards (meters) in 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 demonstrated at the Cochise County site last week have largely halted work in recent days while standing in front of construction vehicles. On a recent day, a dozen protesters sat on stacked containers or camping chairs near the tents and vehicles where they sleep.

Work at Yuma cost around $6 million and was completed in 11 days with 130 of the containers covering around 3,800 feet (about 1,160 meters). The Bureau of Reclamation told Arizona it violated US law by building on federal land. The Cocopah Indian tribe has also complained that the state has not sought permission to build on its neighboring reservation.

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

The Center for Biological Diversity sided with the federal government that the construction violates US law.

While Ducey’s lawsuit doesn’t address environmental concerns, groups like the center say work in the Coronado National Forest puts endangered or threatened species like the western yellow-billed cuckoo and spotted owl at risk. from Mexico, as well as big cats, including the occasional ocelot.

The biologically diverse region of southeastern Arizona is known for its “sky islands,” or isolated mountain ranges rising more than 6,000 feet (1,828 meters) above desert “seas” and of meadows. Wildlife cameras in the area regularly photograph black bears, bobcats, ringtails, spotted skunks, white-nosed coatis, and hog-like javelins.

McSpadden said the work toppled oak and juniper trees and found coils of barbed wire and other construction debris on National Forest land.

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

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

Dynamite explosions have forever reshaped the remote Guadalupe Canyon in the southeast corner of Arizona. Towering steel bollards closed wildlife corridors, preventing animals like tiny elven owls, pronghorns and Mexican big cats from crossing into the United States to hunt and mate.


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