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BP plans 63 miles of new border wall, up to 30 ft. high, in 3 protected Az wilderness areas

The Border Patrol is seeking to construct nearly 63 miles of new border walls, rising up to 30 feet tall, along three protected wilderness areas in Southern Arizona.

The agency is planning to replace miles of "dilapidated and outdated" pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers in Arizona with a new bollard wall. The proposed design would include concrete-filled steel bollards made of square steel around six inches on a side, and would rise 18 to 30 feet high. 

This would include 43.6 miles of wall along the southern border of the 330,000-acre Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a protected wilderness that has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations, as well as the southern edge of the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge west to the Yuma County line. 

This would effectively split Organ Pipe and Cabeza Prieta from a sister refuge, Mexico's El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve, challenging several endangered species, including the Sonoran pronghorn, desert bighorn sheep, and desert tortoises.

Environmentalists blasted the plans as "shocking."

CBP would also replace 19.2 miles of fencing in southeastern Arizona, including a section along the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, a 2,369-acre refuge established to protect the wetlands of the Bernardino ciénega, a wetland that serves as a migratory corridor for wildlife moving between the mountain ranges of Mexico and the Rocky Mountains in Arizona and New Mexico. 

CBP is also planning to replace two sections of border wall south of Sierra Vista, including a mile section along the Coronado National Forest. 

The agency will seek public comment on the proposed border barrier projects to construct new bollard walls to replace what the agency called in an unreleased document, "dilapidated and outdated designs in Pima and Cochise counties."

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"This outrageous proposal would ram a massive landscape-scale monstrosity through the heart of the Sonoran Desert," said Laiken Jordahl, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson-based environmental organization. "It would be catastrophic for many iconic Arizona species including the endangered Sonoran pronghorn."

"Pronghorn already suffer a litany of daily disturbances from Border Patrol driving and flying helicopters in designated wilderness," he said. "The last thing they need is a massive border wall cutting through their range that would forever isolate pronghorn populations in the U.S. from those in Mexico."

Jordahl said that his organization has already sued the Trump administration in February against the president's emergency declaration and use of Defense Department funding to build barriers along the southwestern border.

"CBP is seeking input regarding the proposed project’s potential impacts to the environment, culture, and commerce, including potential socioeconomic impacts, and quality of life," the agency said. "Comments on the project will be considered as a part of CBP’s project planning process." 

Comments can be submitted to the agency either by email or via mail. 

In mid-April, the Department of Homeland Security said it will waive dozens of environmental, health and other laws to clear the way for construction on about 58 miles of border barriers, including 12 miles of fencing near Yuma.

These areas are where there is “an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border of the United States in order to prevent unlawful entries into the United States in the project area," DHS said in Federal Register notices posted that month.

Those notices said Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin K. McAleenan would invoke the department’s authority to waive more than 30 regulations – ranging from the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act to the Eagle Protection Act and Endangered Species Act – to pave the way for border wall projects in Arizona and New Mexico.

DHS was given the ability to waive environmental laws through a part of the 2005 Real ID act, and the agency has used the waiver dozens of times.

"In order to ensure the expeditious construction of the barriers and roads in the project area, I have determined that it is necessary that I exercise the authority that is vested in me,” McAleenan said in the notice. This would allow DHS to build 8 miles of wall near Yuma, about 46 near the Columbus Port of Entry in New Mexico, and another 4.1 miles near San Luis. 

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The first two projects would be built in part with Defense Department funds that target drug trafficking, DHS said. 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

The current bollard wall near Lukeville, Arizona. This wall will be replaced with a 18-foot to 30-foot high wall made of steel and concrete.

Public comments

To have your say on CBP's proposed border-wall expansion in Pima and Cochise counties, email commentsenv@cbp.dhs.gov with "Pima and Cochise Counties Border Infrastructure Projects" as the subject line, or send a letter to:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Border Patrol Headquarters
1300 Pennsylvania Ave. 6.5E Mail Stop 1039
Washington, DC 20229-1100

Comments will be accepted through July 5.

Project info is posted at www.cbp.gov/about/environmental-cultural-stewardship/nepa-documents/docs-review

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