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Removal begins on Ducey's shipping container walls, but questions remain

Contractors hired by the state of Arizona have started dismantling a makeshift border wall made of shipping containers in Yuma and Cochise counties.

The containers went up on federal land in both areas, without permission or an environmental impact study. Agencies in charge of the land said the projects were illegal and the state mounted a legal battle to allow the containers to stay. But the federal government didn't intervene to stop the work until December, when the Department of Justice filed suit to force Arizona to remove the containers.

Hear Lisa Sturgis' interview with host Mark Brodie on The Show

containers-show-MB-20230105.mp3

But by then, local protesters like Kate Scott had already halted construction in Cochise County. She says she’s relieved it’s being taken down, but questions remain. 

"How will this be rolled into the remediation plan, will we take the time to do this right, because we know that wasn’t addressed when this was being done? And so now we really have to be very, very careful when we go about putting it back together again," she said. 

Authorities with the Coronado National Forest, where the Cochise project is based, closed the area to the public this month, while containers are being removed. 

Scott and other activists spent days camping out at the site to make sure no more containers were placed in December. Now, she says she wants the Forest Service to allow observers back in, so they can ensure the removal process doesn’t cause more environmental harm.

The Cochise County project was slated to cover a rugged, 10-mile stretch of desert grasslands. Contracts between Arizona and construction firm AshBritt show former Gov. Doug Ducey's office had earmarked more than $90 million in taxpayer funds for the work. About $80 million of that had been spent by the time protesters shut down construction in December. 

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.