Altered border wall crosses last free-flowing river in Arizona
PALOMINAS, Arizona (Border report) – The majestic canopy of towering poplars can be seen for miles, like a green ribbon carving the dry semi-desert prairies of southern Arizona. The Winding Tree Line marks where the San Pedro River winds through the Huachuca mountain range that sits on either side of the US-Mexico border.
The trees can reach 100 feet tall and are a welcome source of shade for the millions of migratory birds that flock to the river each year. For some, it is the only water they will find for hundreds of kilometers. The San Pedro River is one of only two major rivers that flow from northern Mexico to the United States and is one of the last unblocked rivers in the southwest.
But an unprecedented drought – the worst since 1924 – has hit Cochise County, Arizona. And in many places, the river that begins 10 miles south of the international border in Sonora, Mexico is just a riverbed of cool sandy loam down to the feet.
This created ideal conditions for construction workers who are quickly building a border wall here. And that angered local environmentalists who fear that this massive structure could block the flow of the river when the waters return to normal levels, especially when torrential falls and flash floods occur during the “monsoon” that s. ‘runs from June to September throughout Arizona.
On Thursday, Border Report visited the area where the San Pedro River intersects the two countries and where a 30-foot-high metal border wall is being built with special movable door design features that are added to deal with the torrential falls and regional flooding. This is part of the 74 miles of new border wall being built across the Huachuca Mountains as part of the Tucson Border Wall System Project, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Kate Scott, who led the tour, points out the different species of birds and mammals that inhabit this “last free-flowing river”.
Scott, 62, runs the Madrean Archipelago Wildlife Center non-profit group, a water conversation organization focused on the San Pedro River Basin. She says the special doors that are installed in the new border wall that can be opened to allow greater water flow during monsoon and storms are not hydraulic and must be turned manually. She has met with CBP officials and said the border patrol officer in charge of that area has told her that her officers will be responsible for opening the gates, and she is concerned about how quickly they will be in. able to respond to this remote region in the event of unexpected storms.
“We don’t know how that will happen physically,” said Scott, a mechanical engineer, pointing to the rectangular structures being installed. “How they’re actually going to open those doors.”
This area is located approximately 6 miles south of Highway 92 in Palominas, a town of just 212 residents. It is on a dirt road that has several signs warning motorists of bumps and deep holes in the unmaintained road. Scott has a good friend who lets her park on his property, which is about half a mile from the river.
The beep of construction trucks and hammer blows can be heard from afar, and a giant crane marks the spot where crews are building a concrete bridge across the river and currently installing these movable gates. The bollards here are 6 inches wide and have 5 inch spaces in between which is a space 1 inch wider than other border wall designs like in South Texas. CBP has also changed plans for building walls on the Tijuana River in Southern California.
But Scott says it’s still not enough for the 41 species of reptiles and amphibians to pass through. She worries about spotlights that will ‘confuse’ owls and bats, and as she scanned the wall Thursday afternoon, she said: ‘Some birds don’t fly that high, they just don’t. not”.
She was visibly upset by the speed at which the wall is being built. Arizona is the state with the fastest border wall construction in the Southwest. That’s because much of the land is owned by the federal government, and the Trump administration has waived environmental laws to speed up construction.
During the second presidential debate on Thursday evening, President Donald Trump boasted that 400 miles of new border wall had been built under his administration. He wants to have 450 miles built by election day on November 3. His Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, has said he will end border wall activity if elected.
This area is part of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area established in 1988. “The first of its kind. This was the place where they wanted to make sure we were protecting, ”Scott said. “The river is right here and the Huachuca Mountains are behind.”
She was last here two weeks ago and said she had been told by CBP officials that the concrete bridge would not be built yet and that they were consulting locals on the best design. But Thursday, the concrete bridge spanned half of the bank and the teams were busy enriching it.
A dirt road next to the wall has been cleared for a 150-foot-wide application area, which will include an all-season road for border patrol vehicles and the bridge for officers to cross the river. Across the dirt road there are huge pieces of vehicle barriers, giant X’s like the tank hitches used during WWII on the beaches of Normandy, France. This is what marked this international border line.
At this location two months ago, Scott held a protest that drew 30 people, including legislative candidates, “longtime river activists” and nonprofits, she said. . In January, hundreds of people came to the river for a sit-in she helped organize when they first learned that the border wall would be built here.
“There is a die-hard group of us who refused to say, ‘OK, we’re not going to do anything more.’ We stood firm and wrote letters and reached out to our state and local leaders to try to get answers and so we felt compelled to come here and make a statement, almost like we were having a session of Congress with the river. and let’s share with her, ”Scott says.
Scott and his friend Robin Motzer, a poet and writer, held a ‘prayer ceremony’ on the dry riverbed on Thursday as the noise of construction crews hummed in the background. They hung “prayer flags” marked with handwritten words such as: “I am the sacred words of the earth… It is truly beautiful… Song of the spirit of the earth”.
Motzer, 55, who lives in Tucson, donned a feathered mask and read “Bloated Border Men,” a fiery poem condemning the border wall. Scott read a prayer in a tribal language which she said was “given to me by Charlie One Horse of the Yaqui people”.
“We are here to bear witness to crimes against nature, crimes against humanity,” Scott said as he began the ceremony. “We send blessings of love and light in all four directions.”
“We the people are silenced by swollen psychotic men who draw lines in the sand with a large group of metal. Intruders on Native American lands, ”Motzer’s poem began. “We the people refuse the inflated egos that proselytize their greed and lies, imprisoned by fear and hatred with a border wall and a toxic electric gate.”
After an hour of surveying the area, the couple drove Border Report upstream for about 3 miles – which took over 15 miles via roads and highways – to find a spot under a one-lane bridge where the water is still flowing in the San Pedro.
The arid mountain air was cooler there, and the towering poplars, with their 75-foot-wide shadow even greener. But as this drought – in which Cochise County was declared a natural disaster – persists – it’s unclear how long the river will still flow there.