Center for Biological Diversity

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

For Immediate Release: July 12, 2006

Michelle T. Harrington, Rivers Program Director, 602-628-9909

San Pedro River Railroad Purchase Offer Withdrawn
River Safe from Toxic Cargo

Phoenix, Ariz.—The San Pedro River will not have hazardous materials transported along its banks, as the pending purchase offer for the adjacent railroad was withdrawn today.

“This is truly a victory for the San Pedro River and the citizens of the county. Instead of being turned into a toxic corridor, the river banks can move forward as a rails-to-trails project,” said Michelle Harrington, Rivers Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

There has been little or no service on the railroad line for several years. The current owner, San Pedro Railroad Operating Company, LLC, planned to retire the 76.2 miles of rail between the border and Benson in Cochise County. Before the retirement was finalized, Sonora-Arizona International, LLC, offered to purchase the railroad and restart the line with plans to significantly expand operations within Arizona and into Mexico to the Port of Guaymas.

The railroad runs along the banks of the San Pedro River through the Riparian National Conservation Area. The planned railroad operations would have brought hazardous toxins within close proximity of the ecologically rich river, seriously damaging the riparian corridor. Unmitigated, groundwater-dependent development in the area of Naco, Arizona and Naco, Mexico and subsequent impacts to the San Pedro base flows were also a concern.

The federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) did not analyze these and other potential impacts before giving final approval of the sale of the rail line on May 3, 2006. The financial transaction was to be completed by July 12, 2006, but Sonora-Arizona withdrew their offer to purchase the railroad.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit in June against the STB for failing to consider the environmental impacts of the expanded railroad operations on the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area before authorizing the sale. Now that the purchase offer was withdrawn, the lawsuit can be dropped. The Center was represented in this case by Howard Shanker, The Shanker Law Firm, PLC.

San Pedro Railroad petitioned the federal government to abandon the deteriorating rail line and salvage the steel tracks, opening the railroad corridor for a rails-to-trails project. The trail project received support from the Center as well as the Cochise County Board of Supervisors and Bureau of Land Management.

“A new trail system will provide more access to hikers and birders and bring additional tourism dollars to the county and area communities,” said Harrington.

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.

“A tragedy has been averted, and a lot of folks are celebrating. The San Pedro riparian corridor – an irreplaceable gem in the desert – will not have to contend with a noisy, toxic railroad running through its heart. This is one of the best things that have happened for the San Pedro River in a long time,” said Harrington.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with more than 25,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and their habitats.

The Shanker Law Firm, PLC, is located in Tempe, Arizona (480-838-9300, toll free: 1-877-848-9300).


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