U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat, has asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to intervene in a controversial pipeline project that would carry natural gas from Tucson to Sasabe and into Mexico.
Grijalva sent a letter to the secretary of the interior Monday asking the department to challenge findings from a draft report released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the use of access roads in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge for the Kinder Morgan Sierrita Pipeline project.
In the report, known as a draft compatibility determination, Fish and Wildlife evaluated a proposal from Kinder Morgan to use 12 miles of roads in the refuge area during pipeline construction and determined it was permissible.
Grijalva questioned why the agency would let Kinder Morgan use roads in the refuge after it refused to let the company build its pipeline through the refuge in an existing corridor near Arizona 286.
“Not only would these roads be used for construction and access by heavy equipment and trucks, these roads would serve as permanent access for maintenance and repairs of the pipeline,” Grijalva said in the letter. “This is an inexplicable determination and totally inconsistent with their previous determination of incapability of siting the pipeline along the already disturbed highway corridor.”
Grijalva was traveling Wednesday and unavailable for comment.
Kinder Morgan wants to build the 60-mile pipeline through an area west of the refuge in Altar Valley, which has drawn opposition from Pima County officials and area ranchers.
County officials and ranchers say the pipeline will damage pristine land and create a new smuggling corridor.
Pima County will gain only limited tax revenues from the project, officials said.
Kinder Morgan representatives have been meeting with Pima County officials to discuss plans to mitigate damage done to the area.
According to the draft compatibility determination, Kinder Morgan wants to use 11 roads, which would carry a variety of vehicles, ranging from pickup trucks and passenger vans, to flatbed and heavy stringing trucks.
Kinder Morgan has proposed a plan to blade and gravel all of the roads as needed, install caution signs and mitigate any damage to area habitats, according to the document.
The company has also developed a “fugitive dust control plan” to address increased air pollution in the area.
The report says there could be an increased number of collisions between the vehicles and wildlife during construction, expected to take place from July to September, but animal populations in the area should not be measurably affected.
The road improvements could also prompt more use of the roads by the public.
Although the use of the roads is permissible, Fish and Wildlife included numerous stipulations.
The stipulations include hiring a refuge law enforcement officer to patrol the area, hiring environmental compliance monitors, maintaining the refuge’s western boundary fence, paying for the cost of rounding up and removing animals that escape from open gates or fences, and taking other actions to maintain the area.
The report is not final, but Fish and Wildlife officials hope to release a finalized version within the next several weeks, said Sally Flatland, refuge manager for the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.
The project cleared a major hurdle after an environmental impact statement from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found the construction and operation of the pipeline would result in limited adverse environmental impact.