December 13, 2005
Environmentalists to Appeal Border Fence Ruling
SAN DIEGO -- Environmental activists vowed on Tuesday to appeal a ruling by a San Diego federal judge allowing the United States to finish building a fence along the border with Mexico despite concerns that it would threaten a wildlife habitat.
The Department of Homeland Security won the right on Monday to finish the remaining 5 miles of the border fence in southern California by invoking a little-known federal law that allows the agency to waive state and federal environmental laws in the name of security.
"This isn't just about trees, plants and birds," said Cory Briggs, who represents the environmental activists. "This is about setting the Constitution on fire."
The Department of Justice attorney handling the case was traveling and could not be reached for comment. Officials at the Department of Homeland Security said they plan to finish the fence but do not have a starting date.
Briggs sued the federal government in February 2004 on behalf of the Sierra Club, the San Diego Audubon Society, San Diego Baykeeper, the California Native Plant Society, the Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association and the Center for Biological Diversity.
The suit asks for a halt to construction of the fence until further environmental impact studies could be done.
Most of the 14-mile (22-km), triple-wide fence, begun in 1996, has been completed. But environmentalists have been fighting 5 miles of the fence, including a stretch that crosses Smugglers Gulch in the Tijuana Wetlands and the Tijuana Estuary, havens for endangered species.
Fence plans call for filling the gulch with 2 million cubic yards of dirt.
"If they had a reasonable design that paid attention to the environment, they could have got this built years ago," said Jim Peugh of the Audubon Society "The problem isn't the need for a fence, it's that they are building the wrong fence."
The lawsuit cites comments from state, local and federal agencies, including the Department of the Interior, the California Department of Fish and Game and the San Diego Association of Governments , that the fence may damage the natural habitat, home to native plants, birds and butterflies.
The California Coastal Commission ruled the fence will cause damage in February 2004.
In September, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff invoked an amendment to the 2005 Appropriations Bill that lets the department waive any laws necessary to secure the nation.
Briggs said this is the first time the amendment has been invoked.