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Judge Halts Construction of Border Fence

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Judge Halts Construction of Border Fence

Environment

Judge Halts Construction of Border Fence

Judge Halts Construction of Border Fence

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Construction of a fence along the Arizona-Mexico border has been halted near the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, a major wildlife — and smuggling — corridor. Ted Robbins, NPR hide caption

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Ted Robbins, NPR

Construction of a fence along the Arizona-Mexico border has been halted near the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, a major wildlife — and smuggling — corridor.

Ted Robbins, NPR

A federal judge Wednesday temporarily halted construction of a fence on the border in the federally protected San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, saying the government rushed the project forward without the necessary environmental and public-comment reviews.

The fence in question is in southeastern Arizona, in a major smuggling corridor. But the region is also a primary passage for wild animals.

Surveyors have staked out a fence next to the river, but construction hasn't begun. Plans call for a fence up to the river, with vehicle barriers in the river.

Bill Odle, a former marine who lives on 50 acres right on the Mexican border, says the only thing it will do is obstruct the deer, mountain lions and other wildlife that use the corridor.

"If I thought this was providing any more security for our nation, I could have some level of acceptance. But it's not. Just this morning, they caught a group of 22 climbing the fence east of here on my neighbor's property. People will climb this [fence]."

But Walt Kolbe, who lives on the San Pedro River, about 6 miles downstream from the border, says he is tired of the illegal traffic through his property and supports anything that might reduce it.. He and his wife own a bed-and-breakfast inn, surrounded on all sides by the conservation area.

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"I can't wait for [the fence] to be completed. I think it's the greatest thing since graham crackers," he says.

"The effects that we see are garbage, junk, people knocking at our door at 2 o'clock in the morning, wanting water. We hope that it will slow down the traffic dramatically," he says.

But environmental groups say no one has thoroughly studied the effects that the fence might have on wildlife.

The Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife sued. Late Wednesday, federal Judge Ellen Huvelle agreed, granting a 10-day temporary restraining order.

"You can clean up trash. You can do trail restoration or habitat restoration. A wall is permanent," says Matt Clark of Defenders of Wildlife.

Hovering over the debate is the authority that Congress gave to the secretary of homeland security to bypass all environemtnal laws in the name of national security. He has exercised that authority twice already.

The government also plans to build fencing in environmentally sensitive areas in Texas.