UPDATE, 3/4: CBD files Clean Water Act violation complaint against Pinal County. "Laws obviously mean little to Pinal County. We trust there will be immediate action from federal officials to halt the county's blatant disregard for well established legal requirements protecting the environment," said Robin Silver of the Center.
TUCSON -- Arizona conservationists have filed a notice of intent to file suit against Pinal County to stop the ongoing destruction of rare San Pedro River habitat — an area on the lower San Pedro River, near Dudleyville, which is federal conservation land set aside to protect an endangered migratory songbird.
On February 7, 2008, Pinal County bulldozed open an “administration use only” easement on Bureau of Land Management property after first declaring an “emergency” and exercising “eminent domain” authority to create an emergency open public crossing. However, no emergency exists; Pinal County’s actions violate multiple federal laws.
Pinal County’s actions follow years of increasing tension pitting off-roaders against property owners, the Bureau of Land Management, and local, state, and federal law-enforcement officials. The disputed area became federal conservation land in 1996, when the agency purchased a conservation easement from a local cattle operator to protect the riparian area from cattle grazing and off-road vehicle abuse and to protect the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher nesting there.
Until December 31, 2007, the area was also subject to a temporary emergency easement with Pinal County. The temporary emergency easement allowed emergency passage across the San Pedro River until Pinal County repaired the nearby Romero Road Bridge, which had been damaged in floods in January 1993. Fifteen years later, Pinal County has still not repaired the Romero Road Bridge.
The temporary emergency easement has rarely been used for an emergency, but it has been increasingly used by off-roaders. Vandalism and damage to the riparian area by off-road vehicle users has become an increasingly serious problem, beyond the control of law-enforcement officials.
On June 13, 2007, the rancher and Bureau of Land Management notified Pinal County that they were exercising their termination option within the temporary emergency easement contract, and on December 31, 2007, a temporary barrier was placed across the road to control off-road traffic. Emergency access was still allowed, but off-roaders would need to use a nearby alternative crossing. Pinal County’s actions violate statutes prohibiting destruction of federal property, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and U.S. constitutional provisions preventing local authorities from superseding federal authority.
“Pinal County feigned an emergency and violated multiple laws, apparently for the convenience of local off-roaders. Hopefully the county will correct its errant ways and avoid legal rebuke,” said Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity.
- adapted from CBD