| For Immediate Release: April 25, 2006
Contact: Michelle T. Harrington, Rivers Program Director, 602-628-9909
Railroad Sale Poses Risk to San Pedro River
Phoenix, Ariz. – A pending sale of a rail line that runs through the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area could seriously damage the river corridor and bring unmitigated growth to both Naco, Arizona and Naco, Mexico.
The current owners of the rail line, which runs along the river from the Mexico border to Benson, planned to abandon the deteriorating rail line and salvage the steel tracks, opening the railroad corridor for a rails-to-trail project. The trail project received support from Cochise County and the Bureau of Land Management. Area residents were excited about having an established path along the scenic waterway. However, cross-border developer Charles Sotelo offered to purchase the rail line from San Pedro Railroad Operating Company, LLC. Sotelo started a new company, Sonora-Arizona International, LLC, to operate the railroad.
“The rail should be abandoned and the area converted to a trail system. This will benefit the river and wildlife as well as the community. Providing more access to hikers and birders will bring stable economic opportunities in an area that already experiences substantial tourism dollars because of the river,” said Michelle Harrington, Rivers Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Center for Biological Diversity opposes the sale to Sonora-Arizona due to concerns over increased rail traffic and hazardous cargo traveling within meters of the river. Residential and industrial growth, increased power needs, increased pollution, impacts to washes and uplands, and impacts to numerous wildlife and plant species are also major concerns in this fragile ecosystem. Sonora-Arizona’s plans call for the development of Naco as a major port of entry from Mexico, which poses environmental and safety concerns for communities along this stretch of the border. But impacts to the already imperiled San Pedro River cause the most immediate concern.
The San Pedro is the last surviving desert river in the southwest. Congress recognized its importance in 1988 with the creation of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. It provides the most intact habitat in the world for the endangered Huachuca Water Umbel and is prized for its outstanding diversity of migratory birds, wildlife and cottonwood-willow forest. Concerns for the river’s continued flow has plagued the region. As a result in part by the Center’s many conservation and awareness-raising efforts, many people recognize that protecting its stream flow is a priority.
“The San Pedro is an irreplaceable gem in the desert, important to all Arizonans and the nation. A noisy, toxic railroad through the heart of the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area subverts all of the hard work done to protect the river and thwart’s the intentions of Congress,” Harrington said.
The Federal Surface Transportation Board has set the terms and conditions for the sale of the rail. Sonora-Arizona has 90 days to come up with the funds to finalize the purchase. Sotelo has refused to divulge the identities of the investors who would fund the large-scale development of this sleepy border town.
Harrington said, “Sonora-Arizona has no experience in railroad operations. We question the integrity of this planned operation and fear the worst for the San Pedro and the area’s citizens. The best thing for everybody would be for Mr. Sotelo to toss his engineer’s costume and abandon his plans. If nothing else, citizens should demand he take his business elsewhere.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with over 22,500 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and their habitats.