By Jo Dean February 2020
The gathering of peaceful protestors on January 26 at the Hereford Bridge was expected to be about 200. A few parking places were set aside and volunteers in yellow vests were ready to direct traffic. About an hour before the protest was scheduled to start, cars, trucks, and bicycles began arriving and soon filled the designated parking areas and finally the roadsides for a mile up the road.
The peaceful protestors were as diversified as the population of southern Arizona. All political persuasions, ages, and cultural backgrounds were represented. People were carrying protest signs, American flags, some in costumes, and one group dressed as butterflies. A few people were even riding their equines, including one mammoth burro. A few drones flew over the crowd recording the event of approximately 1000 people. The energy was high with a common concern to save the San Pedro.
The team of Jeff Sturges and Liz Lopez managed, with hundreds of hours of work, to organize the protest in three weeks, along with the help of many others who care about the San Pedro River. The goal was to raise awareness and hopefully stop the obstruction of the river’s flow, destruction of animal and plant habitat, blocking of animal migration, and damage to ecological health from the construction of the Mexican border wall.
The San Pedro is considered one of the most important riparian areas in the United States and the last designated free flowing river in the American Southwest. It extends from just south of the border in Sonora, Mexico, flows north across the border and 140 miles later ends at the Gila River. A small river is all that remains of what was once an extensive river system throughout the Southwest. In a few hundred years the river system has disappeared due to damming, drought, and human use.
In 1988 Congress designated this narrow stretch of the river from the border north for 40 miles the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRINCA), to be under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management,
According to the SPRINCA website, “The river’s stretch is home to more than 80 species of mammals, two native species and several introduced species of fish, more than 40 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 100 species of breeding birds. It also provides invaluable habitat for 250 species of migrant and wintering birds and contains archaeological sites representing the remains of human occupation from 13,000 years ago.”
The human occupation of 13,000 years has now engendered a possible final degradation of the river system with the construction of the border wall across the river. As of this writing, the 18-foot wall mounted on top of eight feet of concrete foundation is within one quarter mile and marching towards the riverbed. The 90-foot wide access road already crosses the river and cottonwood trees are being cut down. The final construction is expected to have flood lights during the night.
Alternative methods of border deterrence are available that are now used with success and are much more economical, with minimal ecological impact, than the $20 million dollars per mile price tag of the border wall. Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT) are an example of surveillance technology that is successfully used along the border. There are at least 55 IFT in use along the Arizona/Mexico border.
The Customs and Border Control has commented that the wall crossing the river will have flood gates that can be opened and closed to prevent build up of debris. Even with floodgates, the river is expected to dam up behind the wall since debris is heavy during rains and especially during the monsoons. So far, the public has had no access to any construction information about the wall and its design across the river, no public input, and no information on a timeline.
The Cochise County Board of Supervisors have remained mute about the entire situation. Citizens are encouraging the Supervisors to make statements to the Department of Homeland Security, State and Local agencies, and major news outlets in regard for the need of public input, disclosure of construction plans, large animal migration, other economical existing technology, and value of the area for tourism.
Hands Across the River Facebook page contains recent photos of construction activities, drone photos, and information to get to the construction site legally without crossing private land and how to be legal while visiting the construction area. Further information on letter formats to your legislators and further citizen participation can be found on Hands Across the River Facebook page.