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Final $2M set to settle federal suit over Arizona shipping container border wall

The federal government appears ready to drop its lawsuit against Arizona over the makeshift border wall of storage containers it built along the U.S.-Mexico border last year.

The state’s taxpayers will again foot the bill.

The Forest Service contends it will take more than $2 million to fully remediate damage done by the containers.

But Myles Traphagen, borderlands program coordinator with Wildlands Network, says more research is needed to fully assess the impact.

"To reach this conclusion after such a short period of time I think is really giving the state too much of a pass," he said.

Traphagen says the extent of things like erosion, invasive species growth and damages to native plants as a result of the build are not yet clear. He added that more local stakeholders should have been consulted before the settlement was reached. 

The latest amount is on top of the more than $161 million the state already paid to a contractor to put up the barrier in the first place and then take it down. First the state paid $95 million the state paid to AshBritt Management & Logistics to install the border barrier. And then $66.6 million, also of taxpayer dollars, to tear it down, transport the containers to Tucson and start restoring the site to the way it was before the controversial barrier went up.

Ducey chief of staff defends move

That money came out of the Arizona Border fund approved by state lawmakers in 2022.

The deal was filed in federal court and the U.S. government has agreed to drop the case after the bill is paid. 

A spokesperson for Gov. Katie Hobbs says all that awaits is a final judicial order.

There was no immediate response from former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

But Dan Scarpinato, who was Ducey's chief of staff when the state paid to buy the containers, erect the barriers and then take them down, said his former boss stands by the project.

"The feds have been so wildly out of touch regarding this crisis that something needed to be done to amplify security and get the attention of the administration,'' he said. Scarpinato said installing the wall of double-high containers resulted in the Biden administration finally agreeing to close gaps in the existing wall, "which otherwise would never have happened.''

Where will shipping containers go?

Still, there are things left to do. And the biggest is finding a home for the approximately 2,200 shipping containers that are now being stored.

State officials have given first dibs to government agencies and nonprofits that work with the government. But Megan Rose, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, said at this point just 142 of them have been sold off.

The rest, she said, will be offered to the public beginning Oct. 1, with price depending on size and condition.

Rose said that transportation costs will be added to the final bill, as cash and carry is not an option.

"We're making sure that everyone's safe,'' she said. "We don't want somebody to jury-rig something and then end up on the freeway and then have a problem.''

Rose said the state already has been in contact with a trucking firm that will do the job, with the ultimate price depending on the distance involved.

The containers removed from Cochise County are at the state prison in Tucson; those taken off the border at Yuma are at the state prison there.

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Greg Hahne started as a news intern at KJZZ in 2020 and returned as a field correspondent in 2021. He learned his love for radio by joining Arizona State University's Blaze Radio, where he worked on the production team.