Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

February 10th, 2004


CONTACT: Cory Briggs, Briggs Law Corp., (858) 495 9082,
Jim Peugh, San Diego Audubon Society, (619) 224 4591, Adam Keats, Attorney, Center For Biological Diversity, (909) 659 6053,

Local, State Groups Aim to Ensure That Federal Government Looks at Safer Alternatives

A coalition of local, state, and national environmental groups filed a lawsuit today to ensure that the Federal Government, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Directorate of Border and Transportation Security, considers ways of improving border security without unnecessarily hurting San Diego area communities and the environment. The Federal Government has proposed a 14-mile, triple-fence project, which would destroy popular parks, hiking trails, and wildlife habitat, has already drawn opposition from the cities of Imperial Beach, National City, and Chula Vista and San Diego County, and raised concerns from several state agencies.

"Everyone agrees that we need to tighten up border security, but we should be able to do that without hurting the communities who live nearby," stated Jim Peugh from the San Diego Chapter of the Audubon Society, "The plan on the table would destroy the whole mesa along with popular parks and recreation areas."

Joining together on the suit are the The Center For Biological Diversity, San Diego BayKeeper, San Diego Audubon, the Sierra Club, California Native Plant Society, and the Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Center. The plaintiffs contend that the project violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it completely ignored viable, border fence alternatives that would have a less adverse impact on the environment and surrounding communities. In October 2003, the California Coastal Commission staff issued a report recommending that the Commission find the project to be inconsistent with the Coastal Zone Management Act because of the availability of less environmentally destructive alternatives.

"The current proposal would create 10 problems for every one it solved," says Bruce Reznik, Executive Director of San Diego BayKeeper. "INS doesn't want to look at alternatives, but they owe it to the people who have to live here to obey the law and consider less harmful solutions."

In response to a 1996 congressional mandate, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) proposed and started to construct a 14-mile border infrastructure system to increase security around a current border fence. The proposed project would involve constructing secondary and tertiary fencing parallel to the existing fence, along with associated patrol and maintenance roads and other related infrastructure. The new fencing would start at the Pacific Ocean and extend 14-miles inland to the foothills of the San Ysidro Mountains.

The proposed project would result in significant adverse environmental and cultural impacts. In order to create flat roadways between the fences, the government would remove numerous hilltops and fill sensitive canyons, thus causing a massive loss of sensitive coastal habitat. Erosion would smother the Tijuana River National Estuary and reduce tidal flushing and harm already endangered wildlife. The development would also destroy popular parks and trails for a region, which has been struggling to keep up with recreation demands of a fast growing population. Finally, the proposed project would increase flooding for the 25,000 residents of Tijuana.

Although several less environmentally and socially destructive alternatives were proposed to secure the border, the Federal Government ignored them. Proposed alternatives included fortifying the primary fence, building fences without accompanying roads, and switch-backing the roads through the canyons. Despite the fact that these alternatives would meet border patrol needs, the INS dismissed them in order to build a large, flat border fence infrastructure, which would maximize operational efficiency.

"The fact that so many surrounding communities and relevant state agencies have such strong concerns should have been enough incentive for INS to find a better way." "So far, it hasn't been, and so we're left with no choice but to take our concerns to court."

Cory Briggs and Peter Mesich, of Briggs Law Corp. and Gabriel Solmer of San Diego BayKeeper will be litigating this case along with Adam Keats of the Center for Biological Diversity and the law offices of Everett L DeLano III, who are representing the Center for Biological Diversity in the case.

Talking Points
Press Conference- Filing of NEPA Lawsuit

  • The purpose of this lawsuit is to protest the unacceptable Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that was released by the Federal Government in July of 2003. We (the Sierra Club, San Diego Audubon, California Native Plant Society, San Diego BayKeeper, Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association and the Center for Biological Diversity) want an EIS that complies with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
  • Everyone agrees that we need safe borders, but we should be able to achieve that without hurting the communities who live nearby. The current proposal is pure overkill, like slicing a stick of butter with a chainsaw. The triple-fence design would be wide enough to land a 737 and create as much fill as two Hoover Dams.
  • This is about protecting communities and the people who live here and a government agency that just won't listen. This proposal has drawn the opposition of Imperial Beach, National City, and Chula Vista, and San Diego County, not to mention the state California Coastal Commission. The State Fish and Game and Parks and Rec. departments have also expressed concern, as has the Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, State Senators Dede Alpert, Denise Moreno Ducheney, Christine Kehoe, and Juan Vargas, and U.S. Representatives Bob Filner, and Susan Davis.
  • Rather than sticking with a bad plan, the federal government ought to get together with all of these stakeholders to find a workable solution. That's not just common sense; the law expressly says that federal agencies are supposed to at least consider less harmful alternatives. That hasn't happened here.


From the California Coastal Commission staff report regarding federal consistency for the final 3.5 miles of the proposed Border Infrastructure System Project:

" The current proposal does not strike a reasonable balance between Border Patrol and resource protection needs," the report concludes. "Feasible alternatives are available that would significantly lessen adverse impacts to coastal zone resources and still enable the Immigration and Naturalization Service to meet its Border Patrol needs."

From County Supervisor Greg Cox, whose district includes Imperial Beach

"Granted, there's a need to beef up the fence down there but I think it can be done without desecrating a mesa and destroying a park,"


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