Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Border Fence Could Harm Environment, Expert Says

August 22, 2011

Nogales – The federal government should take action to prevent environmental damage from floods related to the new barrier on the Arizona-Mexico border, an expert said.

"We believe we're beginning to see evidence of the consequences of ignoring environmental laws in building the fence along the border," Jenny Neeley, director of conservation policy at the Tucson-based Sky Island Alliance, told Efe.

Early this month, a 40-foot stretch of the barrier collapsed because of the heavy rains.

The part that came down was a segment of a 5.2 mile fence built between 2007 and 2009 within the confines of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

"This part of the border fence was built after Congress gave special powers to the Department of Homeland Security in 2006 to ignore environmental protection laws," Neeley said.

Parts of the fence were built without respecting the standards established under federal laws protecting the environment, and even ignoring the specific warnings of the National Park Service.

Lee Baiza, superintendent of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, told media that the border fence acted like a dam behind which water collected, and the higher the water rose, the stronger it got, until it knocked the fence down.

"The DHS not only doesn't help protect the border, it also causes significant damage to the ecosystem, creating a problem that could easily have been avoided if they had followed the established rules," Neeley said.

She said that this is not the first time such problems have arisen with the border fence - back in 2009 the management of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument reported that the Lukeville Port of Entry and other parts of the park were being flooded due to drainage problems caused by the fence.

"Construction like this causes massive erosion by blocking the natural flow of rainwater, so the water is forced into other areas, causing great damage to the region," Neeley said.

The federal government tried to ease the problem by installing sluicegates to drain off the water, but for that strategy to work, according to Neeley, federal agents would have to know exactly when it is going to rain and where the water will be concentrated.

"Anybody who has lived more than one rainy season in Arizona knows perfectly well that you just can't tell where it's going to rain," the expert said.


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