Sunday, December 27, 2020

'A disgraceful campaign of ecological destruction, carried out for profit in fulfillment of a political slogan'

Quotes of the Day: It’s a disgraceful campaign of ecological destruction, carried out for profit in fulfillment of a political slogan: “Build the Wall.” … President-elect Joe Biden said in August: “There will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration.”

Tim Steller’s opinion: Biden’s border-wall obligation — repair damage to Southern Arizona. “We want the construction to stop and we want restoration to start on Jan. 22,” says one Southern Arizona rancher worried about environmental damage caused by the border wall.

From the New Mexico border to the Barry Goldwater bombing range, workers are busily destroying Southern Arizona’s borderlands.

Night and day, week after week, they’re blasting, grading, tearing up, digging down — all to throw up as much border wall as they can before President Trump leaves office Jan. 20.

It’s a disgraceful campaign of ecological destruction, carried out for profit in fulfillment of a political slogan: “Build the Wall.”

Many of the places where the wall is going up now — like Guadalupe Canyon in Cochise County, the Pajarita Wilderness in Santa Cruz County and the Tinajas Altas mountains in Yuma County — are largely impenetrable by vehicle and a very difficult climb and walk anyway, especially in summer. The wall itself is practically redundant there.

But the contractors have just this one shot to make their buck. Southwest Valley Constructors, a division of New Mexico-based Kiewit, has a $2.2 billion contract to build 88 miles of wall in southeastern Arizona. North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel is carrying out a $1.8 billion contract to build 74 miles of wall south and west of Tucson.

By my calculations, on average the cost of one measly foot of border wall construction is $466!

So they’re blasting rock, sucking up water and pouring concrete as the clock ticks down.

President-elect Joe Biden said in August: “There will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration.”

The Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that the federal government would save $2.6 billion in border-wall spending if Biden stops construction when he takes office, the Washington Post reported.

A total of $3.3 billion would be left to spend, but it would cost about $700 million to wind down operations and pay off contractors.

All of this, of course, is money allocated to the Defense Department that was hijacked by Trump by declaring an emergency, because he promised his supporters a wall. Mexico is not, as he promised, paying for the wall — we are.

The whole money grab may eventually be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, which is to hear the case next year, but even then it would only happen long after the damage is done.

With all this money pouring into environmental destruction and the blocking of wildlife migration, the news from the omnibus spending bill passed last week added insult to injury: Congress has allocated an additional $1.375 billion to building border walls.

This was simply a compromise position between Democrats and Republicans that was imported from last year’s spending bill in order to get this one passed in a hurry. But still, it’s an extreme misuse of our taxpayer money, on top of Trump’s possibly illegal spending.

I’ve been speaking with some Cochise County property owners, and they’re outraged at the destruction, but they’re also worried about the future.

The wall itself is likely to contribute to flooding in places like the San Pedro River, Guadalupe Canyon, and other sites where water flows across the border. It has also caused massive damage to the land and the vegetation.

“We want the construction to stop and we want restoration to start on Jan. 22,” said Diana Hadley, a Tucson resident who owns a ranch near the border in southeastern Cochise County.

It’s not just the wall itself that is the problem, though it does threaten to block migration patterns for many mammals, including the jaguars that Hadley has fought for years to protect.

“The roads are just these huge scars on the landscape,” Hadley said. “Presumably, in a place like Guadalupe Canyon, they won’t get all the work done in the next month, but all the scars are still going to be there. If we get a big monsoon rain, imagine all the rock that’s going to fall down.”

She envisions a Civilian Conservation Corps-style program to reduce the damage.

Valer Clark, who owns properties on both sides of the border as part of the Cuenca Los Ojos conservation project, said “emergency measures” are required to protect and restore water flows.

Cuenca Los Ojos has been improving water retention on a property in Mexico, just across the border from the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, which is east of Douglas. Now she expects the southward flow to be blocked.

“The wall goes into the ground,” she said. “The water flowing between the two countries — it’s not going to flow.”

While the damage has happened quickly, the recovery will take a long time.

“It’s like turning a big ship around,” she went on. “It’s going to take a while, and there’s going to be a lot of discussion as to what damage has been done.”

Now, the $1.375 billion isn’t formally dedicated to ecological restoration, but it is dedicated to “construction of a barrier system along the southwest border.”

First of all, the money doesn’t have to be spent at all. But if it is spent, there’s a good argument to put significant money toward repairing some of the damage from what may by then be the illegal, rushed construction of numerous roads as well as border barriers, using Defense Department money.

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, the Tucson Democrat who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, thinks so, too.

“The Biden administration has big discretion,” he said. The new administration could “redirect the money to restoration in some areas, mitigation in other areas, because the damage has been done.”

"Along that scar in Southern Arizona there is some damage that has to be remediated.”

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