Rancher calls new pipeline 'super highway' for drug smugglers - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Rancher calls new pipeline 'super highway' for drug smugglers

Pipeline construction Pipeline construction
(Source: Melissa Owen) (Source: Melissa Owen)
(Source: Melissa Owen) (Source: Melissa Owen)
SASABE, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

If you've driven State Route 286 near Three Points, there's a good chance you noticed construction crews along the side of the road.

They're working on a massive, $200 million pipeline that's going to connect Southern Arizona and Mexico for the transfer of natural gas.

But as you might imagine, any project of this magnitude certainly isn’t without opposition.

To give you some idea how big this project is, we're talking about 60 miles of underground pipeline from the Mexico border all the way north to the southern tip of Tucson Mountain Park.

That's a lot of land. And a lot of impact. And nobody's feeling that impact more than property owners in between.

Melissa Owen is owner of Rancho Sierra Vista de Sasabe, a sprawling 640-acre ranch that's been part of the Southern Arizona landscape since 1929.

"This is where I want to live for the rest of my life…and this is where I hope I’ll die," she says.

Located four and half miles north of the border, near Sasabe -- the ranch has seen its share of illegal activity through the years.

But Owen feels the worst is yet to come, now that a new pipeline and service road are being carved, quite literally, through her property.

"No longer just migrants, " she says. "It's drug smugglers coming across from the border. That's going to simply supply them with a 150-foot-wide super highway from the border to Tucson."

We attempted to contact Border Patrol officials Thursday about the area in question and how, if any, this might affect their patrols near Sasabe, the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and other private/public lands impacted by the new pipeline.

They never answered our questions directly.

Owen is not surprised.

"The Border Patrol used to by sympathetic," she says. "Then suddenly agents weren't allowed to talk to us about the project. And then the new patter from the Border Patrol was well...'We've got it handled -- everything will be just fine.'"

Over the last three years, conservationists have fought the project valiantly, but ultimately lost the battle when it was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

"It will come with it a swath of 150-foot road, cutting through pristine desert and ranch lands of Altar Valley," says Carolyn Campbell, executive director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. "That most definitely will be affected…and ecologically, it may never be the same."

This is why Owen bought the ranch 12 years ago.

"There is so much wildlife here. But it's also very serene, very isolated," she says.

But as bulldozers and trenchers get closer to Owen's front gate...

"I've been hearing it in my nightmares," she says, shaking her head -- it's now unclear if Owen will stay in the place she wanted to spend the rest of her years.

"Some day people are going to look back and say the Altar Valley was home to eight endangered species, including the jaguar -- and we allowed this pipeline to go through it. What a horrible mistake."

The entity responsible for the massive pipeline project is Texas-based energy company Kinder Morgan Inc.

Earlier this year, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission required Kinder Morgan to employ mitigation efforts to limit adverse effects on the desert, its plants, wildlife and the surrounding area.

The commission acknowledged that re-establishing vegetation along the pipeline route could take years, perhaps even decades.

The commission further concluded, with the exception of a few native plants, building and operating the pipeline poses no significant environmental impacts.

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