Lawsuit filed to stop shipping containers from damming rivers and laundry at Arizona border

TUCSON, arizona— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice today regarding its intention to sue the government of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and state contractor AshBritt, Inc. for violating federal law by polluting rivers and scrubbing along the US-Mexico border involving hundreds blocked by shipping containers.

“These giant pieces of garbage are damming streams that feed the San Pedro River, a desert oasis that is already on the brink of drying out,” said Robin Silver, co-founder of the center. “Ducey’s nefarious political stunt will starve the Southwest’s last free-flowing river of water, further jeopardizing one of Arizona’s crown jewels and an international bird-watching mecca. This is another stark reminder that this governor never cared about Arizona.”

The water flows south from the Huachuca Mountains across the border and feeds the headwaters of the San Pedro. The river then winds north into the US and provides one of the last, best riparian corridors for numerous plants and animals, including hundreds of species of migratory birds. The southern portion of Arizona has been protected as the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.

Hours after the center filed its legal notice, the U.S. Department of Justice today indicted the Ducey administration to challenge the construction as illegal trespassing and a violation of federal laws. The federal lawsuit calls for the work to stop, the shipping containers to be removed and the environmental damage to be cleaned up.

AshBritt has cleared and leveled land along the border as part of its work installing the shipping containers, dumping dirt and other material into desert riverbeds in violation of the Clean Water Act. Workers stacked containers about 3 miles along a planned 10-mile stretch west of the Huachuca Mountains before protesters gathered at the site earlier this month and blocked machinery, halting work.

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The activists have been working shifts to maintain a 24-hour vigil at the site and say they will remain until the government arrives. Katie Hobbs will take office in January. Hobbs has said she will halt the project, which cost taxpayers $123.6 million as of Sept. 29, but has not agreed to remove the shipping containers.

In October, Ducey sued the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation after authorities ordered him to remove the double-stacked containers near Yuma and abandon plans to use them in Cochise County’s Coronado National Forest. The judge in that case granted the Center’s motion to intervene in the lawsuit. The Forest Service filed a motion to dismiss Ducey’s case.

Also in October, the center filed a notice of its intention to sue the Ducey government because the shipping containers are blocking a critical migratory corridor for endangered jaguars and ocelots, in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Many threatened and endangered species rely on the lush riparian habitat of the San Pedro River. These species include the Southwestern willow flycatcher, Huachuca waterbush, Arizona eryngo, desert pupfish, loach minnow, spiny snake, yellow-billed cuckoo, and North Mexican garter snake.

“It’s a farce to see desert muds filled with dirt and these beautiful frontiers turned into a landfill,” Silver said. “We are grateful to the brave activists who braved the rain and snow to block construction. Thanks to these protesters, a restraining order in this case is less urgent, but we need a judge to end this for good.”

Aside from endangering wildlife, endangered species, and public lands, the US-Mexico border wall is part of a broader strategy of ongoing border militarization that damages human rights, civil liberties, homelands, local businesses, and international relations. The boundary wall impedes the natural movement of wildlife, which is essential to healthy diversity and ecosystems.

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