State legislators react to Trump’s border wall construction on ‘sacred’ sites

Arizona lawmakers react to border wall construction

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Crews are clearing a substantial amount of the Organ Pipe National Monument and areas surrounding the San Pedro River to make way for the proposed border wall.

The blasting at the border is leading to an explosion of criticism.

“They’re on a schedule. They have to build X amount of wall every day regardless of any consequence of any sacred site," said Rep. Raul Grijalva in a Twitter post Feb. 9, 2020.

Grijalva, who visited Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, spoke out against out the Trump administration for blowing up a sacred hill on the Tohono O’odham Nation.

“Two sites out of four that we visited have already been affected and disturbed,” Grijalva said. "Where they were blasting the other day, on Monument Hill, is the resting place for primarily Apache warriors that had been involved with the battle of the O’odham and the O’odham people, in a respectful way, laid them to rest on Monument hill.”

The Trump administration is making way for the proposed border wall by clearing areas of the Organ Pipe National Monument and areas surrounding the San Pedro River. Opponents of the border wall said construction disrupts local habitat and sacred native land.
The Trump administration is making way for the proposed border wall by clearing areas of the Organ Pipe National Monument and areas surrounding the San Pedro River. Opponents of the border wall said construction disrupts local habitat and sacred native land. (Source: Center for Biological Diversity)

It’s a lack of transparency that has local leaders upset.

The Cochise County Board of Supervisors approved a letter supporting Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick and her efforts to demand more clarity in their construction plans from the Department of Homeland Security.

“The San Pedro River is a precious treasure and we must do everything possible to protect it. Building a border wall without hearing from the people who know the River is not a good policy and it is not how the government is supposed to work,” Kirkpatrick said in a statement. “If our government agencies want to be credible, they must be accountable and transparent with the community.”

Kirkpatrick criticized DHS for its lack of responsiveness to her and the local resident inquiries.

“DHS needs to remember that it is a government entity — paid to serve the people with taxpayer funds — and it should be forthcoming about a project of this magnitude," she said in the statement.

Customs and Border Protection released a statement Wednesday as well:

"The construction contractor has begun controlled blasting, in preparation for new border wall system construction, within the Roosevelt Reservation at Monument Mountain in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. The controlled blasting is targeted and will continue intermittently for the rest of the month. U.S. Customs and Border Protection will continue to have an environmental monitor present during these activities as well as on-going clearing activities.

As with all border barrier projects, CBP conducted biological, cultural, and natural resource surveys of all new border wall system projects currently being executed in the Tucson Sector including the area of Monument Mountain within the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. In addition, CBP has and will continue to coordinate with federal land managers, state agencies, local governments, tribal governments, and other interested stakeholders to obtain information about the possible presence of sensitive resources that may be within the project areas and to develop site-specific construction best management practices to be implemented by the contractor during construction activities that avoid or minimize impacts to resources to the great extent possible.

Based on the environmental surveys and stakeholder coordination completed, no biological, cultural, or historical sites were identified within the project area, which consists of the 60 foot wide swath of land that extends from the international border north and is known as the Roosevelt Reservation. Recently the construction contractor began controlled blasting on Monument Hill within a 5 foot wide area of the Roosevelt Reservation that is immediately adjacent to the international border for the purpose of loosening rock in order to allow for the construction of a footer for the new border wall.

CBP’s environmental monitor is present during these activities to ensure that if any previously unidentified culturally sensitive artifacts are observed within the project area that construction is halted and the appropriate stakeholders are notified to include tribal nations. In addition, the environmental monitor is present to ensure construction best management practices are being implemented by the construction contractor."

In the meantime, construction will continue.

Grijalva said he will hold a hearing to deal with the issue at the end of the month.

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