For Immediate Release, February 5, 2014

Contact Robin Silver, (602) 799-3275

Legal Action Taken to Halt Work at Sierra Vista Airport That Will Hurt San Pedro River, Wildlife

SIERRA VISTA, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a cease-and-desist notice with the Federal Aviation Administration and Arizona’s Department of Transportation to stop spending money for the construction of a new taxiway at the Sierra Vista Muni-Libby Airport. The new taxiway is acknowledged to be part of a previously rejected, controversial airport land transfer.

Initial work to support Taxiway J has begun without an analysis of environmental harm, such as to the San Pedro River and its wildlife, including endangered species. The land transfer was rejected years ago because it would contribute to excessive new unmitigated groundwater-dependent development.

“We have laws to protect special places like the San Pedro River and the wildlife that live there, and this work at the Sierra Vista airport flies directly in the face of those laws,” said Dr. Robin Silver with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The cease-and-desist notice calls for a halt to any federally funded work on the taxiway until it’s been shown to comply with the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The FAA has been trying for years to expand the Sierra Vista airport. The Center for Biological Diversity, voicing serious concerns about the future of the nearby San Pedro River, filed a notice of intent to sue the FAA and the U.S. Army in April 2002 over an attempt to transfer 200 acres of land from Fort Huachuca. The land transfer plan was soon dropped. However, in January 2014 the Center discovered the FAA was funding infrastructure work at the airport that involves the same land transfer to build a new taxiway.

“You can’t do piecemeal work to avoid legal requirements to conduct a thorough environmental review of a project,” Silver said. “If the FAA wants to expand the Sierra Vista airport, it needs to go through the legal steps to show it won’t hurt the San Pedro River and the wildlife that call it home.”

The San Pedro River’s base flow is the stream flow during the dry times of the year when water in the stream comes nearly entirely from water that seeps out of the aquifer through the riverbanks. Local groundwater pumping intercepts water that otherwise would move from the aquifer to the river.

The San Pedro is the last surviving, undammed desert river in the Southwest. Its stream flow represents federal reserved water rights of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, managed by the BLM. Endangered species dependent on the San Pedro include the southwestern willow flycatcher, Huachuca water umbel, desert pupfish, loach minnow, spikedace, yellow-billed cuckoo and Mexican garter snake.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation group with 675,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Go back