Environmentalists, tribes blast project which destroys riparian habitat in San Pedro Valley

Published: Nov. 17, 2023 at 8:17 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - A 500-mile wind energy transmission line that passes through a small section of Pima County is causing some big concerns.

One of those concerns is the installation of the transmission lines and the lines themselves will destroy some sensitive riparian habitat in the San Pedro Valley, which can’t be replaced.

The county is trying to mitigate some of the damage. The Pima County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a plan that allows the project, called Sunzia, to purchase land in another area of San Pedro to offset the habitat that will be destroyed.

It will offset it but won’t replace it.

It’s allowed under the county’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

“They really should have been staunch protectors of the middle San Pedro to protect their own concerns,” says Robin Silver, a founder of the Center for Biological Diversity. “But they weren’t.”

Silver says he’s watched Pima County’s leaders become less strident protectors of the environment in the past few years, eclipsing the early years of the Conservation Plan when the county earned a reputation as one of the most environmentally sensitive counties in the country.

“As the middle San Pedro Valley gets degraded, that reflects on the property owned by the county,” he said. “And that’s what’s happening.”

Several Native American governments are also challenging the project, saying the Bureau of Land Management is not listening to their concerns.

Earlier this week, the Hopi Nation joined other tribes, including the Tohono O’odham and San Carlos Apache, in opposition to the line, saying it ignores the religious and cultural significance the San Pedro valley holds for them.

The project has been put on hold while the BLM and tribes negotiate. They are asking that other sites be considered. The Center for Biological Diversity says there are any number of sites that do not pass through San Pedro.

“Why do we need to have 200-foot tall towers and an additional 400 miles of roads destroying the scenic qualities there,” Silver said.

Even some in Pima County have expressed concerns about the placement.

“I was disappointed personally that they sited it in the San Pedro Valley really,” said Linda Mayro, the Director of Conservation and Sustainability in Pima County. “I know there were other alternatives but if they were not viable for any other reason, the ACC allowed it to go through there.”

The ACC is the Arizona Corporation Commission, which approved the route. The parent company, Pattern Energy, has obtained the permits needed to build it.

But still, some believe it can run counter to preservation goals.

“After this line is built, we are going to go out and do an inspection and make sure our conservation lands are not further impacted and if they have we’ll quantify that and they’ll owe us more,” Mayro said. “So we’re still talking.”

Some board members feel the rules in the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan need to be updated and hope to bring those changes before the board by the end of the year.

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