Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 14, 2022


Robin Silver, (602) 799-3275,

Lawsuit Launched to Stop Arizona Border Shipping Containers From Damming Streams, Washes

TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice today of its intent to sue Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration and state contractor AshBritt, Inc., for violating federal law by blocking streams and washes along the U.S.-Mexico border with hundreds of shipping containers.

“These giant pieces of trash are damming streams that feed the San Pedro River, a desert oasis that’s already in danger of drying up,” said Robin Silver, a co-founder of the Center. “Ducey’s shameful political stunt will starve the Southwest’s last free-flowing river of water, further jeopardizing one of Arizona’s crown jewels and an international birding mecca. This is another stark reminder that this governor has never cared about Arizona.”

Water flows off the Huachuca Mountains to the south across the border, feeding the headwaters of the San Pedro. The river then winds north into the U.S. and provides one of the last, best riparian corridors for numerous plants and animals, including hundreds of species of migrating birds. The southern section in Arizona has been protected as the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.

Hours after the Center filed its legal notice, the U.S. Justice Department today sued Ducey’s administration to challenge the construction as illegal trespassing and a violation of federal law. The federal lawsuit calls for the work to stop, the shipping containers to be removed and the environmental harms to be remediated.

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

The activists have worked in shifts to keep a 24/7 vigil at the site and say they will stay until incoming-Gov. Katie Hobbs takes office in January. Hobbs has said she will halt the project, which has cost taxpayers $123.6 million as of Sept. 29, but has not agreed to remove the shipping containers.

In October Ducey sued the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation after the agencies ordered him to remove the double-stacked containers near Yuma and abandon plans to deploy them in the Coronado National Forest in Cochise County. The judge in that case granted the Center’s request 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 intent to sue Ducey’s administration because the shipping containers block a critical migration corridor for endangered jaguars and ocelots, violating the Endangered Species Act.

Many threatened and endangered species depend on the San Pedro River’s lush riparian habitat. These species include southwestern willow flycatchers, Huachuca water umbel, Arizona eryngo, desert pupfish, loach minnow, spikedace, yellow-billed cuckoos and northern Mexican garter snakes.

“It’s a travesty to see desert washes filled with dirt and these beautiful borderlands turned into a dump site,” said Silver. “We’re grateful to the courageous activists who’re braving rain and snow to block construction. Thanks to these protesters, an injunction in this case is less urgent, but we need a judge to stop this for good.”

Beyond jeopardizing wildlife, endangered species and public lands, the U.S.-Mexico border wall is part of a larger strategy of ongoing border militarization that damages human rights, civil liberties, native lands, local businesses and international relations. The border wall impedes the natural movement of wildlife that are essential to healthy diversity and ecosystems.

Shipping containers block water along the U.S.-Mexico border. Photo credit: Russ McSpadden, Center for Biological Diversity. Images are available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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