Arizona mountains are blown up to make way for construction of Trump’s border wall


Contractors working on Trump’s border wall are pointlessly blowing up chunks of Arizona that they won’t have time to actually build on, campaigners say.

  • Contractors working on President Trump’s border wall are dynamiting pristine Arizona mountains to make way for construction, campaigners told Business Insider.
  • However — since Trump lost the election it is virtually guaranteed nothing will be built on the freshly-blasted land.
  • President-elect Biden has pledged to halt construction when he takes office on January 20. Hardly any new wall can be built by then.
  • Campaigners say that the result is pointless destruction of a previously wild landscape.
  • The White House did not respond to a request for comment. An Army Corps spokesman said that contractors are expected to continue until they are told to stop. 

Contractors rushing to finish sections of President Donald Trump’s border wall before he leaves office are pointlessly destroying vast tracts of wilderness, campaigners have told Business Insider.

Activists who oppose the construction along the US-Mexico border pointed out that work has continued even after President-elect Biden’s victory has essentially doomed the project.

They told Business Insider that Arizona areas are caught in a particularly destructive phase, in which workers are using explosives to access mountains in anticipation of building new barriers there.

John Darwin Kurc, a photographer, has been documenting the work and posting short videos on Twitter:

Biden has pledged to end wall construction when he takes office on January 20, in just over six weeks.

According to the campaigners, that is too little time to start building anything – with the likely outcome that the contractors will detonate miles of once-pristine landscape only to walk away.

In Arizona, the easy construction – on flat land – is complete. To fulfill Trump’s promise of 450 miles of wall by the end of the year, construction companies now face far more difficult mountainous terrain.

Tons of dynamite is being used to blast access roads to the sites, let alone prepare the sites themselves, one campaigner told Business Insider in November.

Laiken Jordahl is a borderlands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity who has observed the process’s front line over the last four years. 

He said: “Essentially, the Trump administration on its way out the door is inflicting irreparable damage on the borderlands, in places where there’s no way they’ll actually be able to build these miles of wall because they’re just too rugged and steep and remote.”

“They are literally moving mountains for every new foot of wall they’re building in Arizona.”

The two main companies constructing the wall in Arizona – Fisher Sand & Gravel and Southwest Valley Constructors – did not respond to a detailed request for comment from Business Insider.

Many of the contractors’ work’s specifics, and the contracts they were granted, remain hidden from public view.

Keeping promises

Fulfilling Trump’s signature election promise to build a wall all along the US-Mexico border has never run smoothly. 

Opposition to it from lawmakers, tribes, and environmental activists has been fierce.

In 2019, after a grievance-filled government shutdown, Trump declared a national emergency at the border and steamrolled regulations to move the project forward.

Rather than relying on Congress to grant the estimated $5 billion needed, the emergency status allowed him to siphon money from military budgets.

A comprehensive waiver of environmental and cultural protections meant a project that would normally require research and mitigation could bulldoze ahead. 

trump border wall
U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he tours a section of new U.S.-Mexico border wall built in San Luis, Arizona, U.S., June 23, 2020 Carlos Barria/Reuters

In September 2019, Trump promised to build 450 miles of new wall by the end of 2020, a deadline it is now rushing to meet. In February, the administration was on track for that target, Politico reported. As of November 30, 415 miles had been completed

Pointless destruction

In Arizona, both tribes and conservationists have watched in dismay and launched numerous legal challenges as construction companies moved in. 

But now that the Trump presidency is coming to an end, there is an even more galling prospect – that the blasting itself is futile even according to the administration’s stated goal of enhanced border security. 

In Arizona’s Basin and Range landscape, most of the only unwalled portions left are the mountains’ less accessible areas. 

“There’s not any kind of security issues in these areas,” Louise Misztal, the nonprofit Sky Island Alliance’s conservation director, told the local High Country News outlet. “There’s no emergency, and there’s no security issue – which makes it that much more atrocious, that they’re just destroying this mountain range.”

Jordahl pointed out that the blasting isn’t limited to land needed actually to hold the wall. To get to the building sites, contractors need to cut miles of switchback access roads zigzagging up mountains and flatten acres of wilderness to create staging areas. 

Tohono O'odham protest Trump border wall Arizona
Members of the Tohono O’odham tribe protesting Trump’s US-Mexico border wall in 2017 Picture: Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images

With just weeks left, it’s unlikely these areas see much wall built. Construction at Monument Hill – a sacred burial site of the Todono O’odham tribe inside the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – began in February and is only just finishing, he said. 

Under that sort of time frame, fresh blasting is futile, Jordahl said. 

He also noted that it could have an ironic sting – if the wall is never built, then the contractors will actually make it easier to sneak into the US since, having improved access to the previously-treacherous landscape.

‘An existential threat’

Jordahl, the activist, explained that Border Patrol officers already had a cavalier attitude to the environment under previous administrations.

But under Trump, “the wall truly is an existential threat to wildlife in the borderlands,” he said. “It’s so much more severe than everything else we’ve experienced up to this point.”

He said that slow-growing cacti – that take ten years to grow to the size of a fist – are tossed aside. “Some of the cactuses we’ve seen bulldozed for the wall are at least 200 years old, older than the border itself in this region,” he said.

There is also an irreparable effect on Arizona’s groundwater, he said. The aquifer – groundwater built up since the Ice Age and held in porous rock underground – has been depleted by thirsty megafarms, according to AZ Central.  

Jordahl said that border wall contractors – who drill deep wells to service their staging areas – have contributed to that depletion. It’s a water supply that will not come back for millennia. 

To conservationists, the mountain areas are known as “sky islands” because of the radically different and separated ecosystems there compared with the lowlands. 

This means that where the wall does go up, the impact is on a massive scale, according to Prof. Aaron D. Flesch, a research scientist at the University of Arizona’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment.

It might look like it’s just a thin stretch of wall amidst otherwise undisturbed landscape. But, Flesch told Business Insider that it would have a colossal effect on native species. 

Sky island populations are small and flourish only by moving around different sites, Flesch said. A wall would ruin that.

“It’s potentially the last nail in the coffin for species like jaguars in the United States, or black bears in the Sonora Desert, which need these transboundary movements to persist long term,” he said. 

Border Wall (Photo: Associated Press)

‘Not another foot of wall’

On the election campaign trail in August, Joe Biden told NPR, “there will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration, No. 1.”

The Arizona contracts between construction companies and the Army Corps of Engineers have not been made public, making it difficult to predict how construction may wound down when Biden takes office.

However, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), who opposed Trump’s border wall and sits on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, told Business Insider that he does not expect the contracts to bind Biden’s hands much.

Governments can usually use a “Termination of Convenience” to end commitments made with contractors under a previous administration.

US Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson George F. Jozens – responding to Business Insider on behalf of Southwest Valley’s parent company Kiewit – said the agency would not speculate on a future administration’s actions.

Until they’re ordered to halt, he said, contractors are expected to continue work. The White House did not respond to a request for comment. 

For Flesch, much of the damage to animal life can be undone so long as the wall never goes up.

“It’s a scar on the landscape, but without the associated walls and lights and patrol roads and the whole cat-and-mouse, border patrol immigrant game, it really is not that large of an impact on wildlife conductivity,” he said. 

But that does not mitigate the damage done on and adjacent to tribal lands, Jordahl pointed out. 

“The Biden administration will have to do some serious justice and reconciliation work with the tribal nations who have had so much destroyed to make way for this wall,” he said.

“Real justice will look like so much more than just stopping all construction.”

Source: Business Insider

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