/ Modified feb 28, 2020 3:27 p.m.

Tohono O’odham chair decries ongoing controlled blasts for border wall project

Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. testified during a U.S. House subcommittee hearing.

Arizona 360 saw firsthand controlled blasts taking place on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument where crews are installing a taller border wall. Customs and Border Protection allowed media to see the detonations the same day that Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples that the construction threatens significant cultural and historical sites.

“This is no different from [Department of Homeland Security] building a 30-foot wall along Arlington Cemetery or through the grounds of the National Cathedral,” Norris testified.

Officials with CBP said the explosives are necessary to break through solid rock and give construction crews a better foundation to install 30-foot bollard fencing.

“This is actually less damaging than some of the other ways. And even some of the hydraulic hammers you can use will not break through some of this. So this is the fastest and most sufficient way to get it done,” project manager Jim O’Loughlin said.

The project near the port of entry in Lukeville calls for 43 miles of taller wall. Crews have completed about nine miles so far, O’Loughlin said. It’s one of several projects happening along the southern border. Norris told the subcommittee he wants Congress to revoke or limit the Department of Homeland Security’s authority to waive environmental laws as a way to expedite construction.

“Preservation of history and culture of O’odham is not just important to the Tohono O’odham Nation, it is important to the preservation of the history and culture of the United States,” Norris said.

CBP officials said the agency has taken steps to ensure the projects are not harming any cultural or historical sites.

“I think we do a very good job of taking into consideration, everywhere we go, any cultural impacts to anybody in the area,” O’Loughlin said.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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