TUCSON - Construction resumed this week on a section of fencing and barriers being built for the U.S. Border Patrol on the Arizona-Mexico border. A federal judge suspended the work Oct. 10, issuing a temporary restraining order after environmental groups sued.
They contended that the federal government had not fully studied the environmental impact of a seven-mile stretch of fencing or barriers and road work planned along the border.
That area includes about a two-mile stretch encompassing the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. The San Pedro, which flows north from Mexico, is the last free-flowing river in Arizona, a significant flyway for migratory birds and a biologically diverse oasis in the desert Southwest.
But last week, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff waived environmental laws that conservation groups had cited in seeking the court-ordered construction delay.
Congress gave Chertoff authority in 2005 to bypass certain laws in carrying out a mandate to secure the nation’s borders. Chertoff’s action marked the third time he has used his waiver authority — once on a fence project near San Diego and in January for a segment of barriers along the Barry Goldwater bombing range in western Arizona.
Richard DeWitt, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, declined to comment on the construction Thursday.
The project includes fencing up to 17 feet tall along some portions of the border but calls for putting temporary steel-rail vehicle barriers in the river that can be removed seasonally during summertime flooding.
The project also includes construction of an all-weather roadway for Border Patrol vehicles just north of the barriers and allows for installation of sensors, towers for lights, cameras, other surveillance and communications equipment.