A Public Service of Santa Fe Community College
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Judge Denies Tribal Request to Block Transmission Lines

Macho Springs Wind Farm, New Mexico, 28 turbines (50 MW) on the Deming Plain near Nutt, Luna Co., NM. Mimbres Mountains in background. 27 Sep 2012.
Macho Springs Wind Farm, New Mexico, 28 turbines (50 MW) on the Deming Plain near Nutt, Luna Co., NM. Mimbres Mountains in background. 27 Sep 2012.

By Sudan Montoya Bryan
Adapted for radio by S. Baxter Clinton

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday, March 16th, rejected a request by Native American tribes and environmentalists to stop work on a $10 billion transmission line being built through a remote southeastern Arizona valley that will carry wind-generated electricity from New Mexico to customers as far away as California.

The project — approved in 2015 following a lengthy review — has been touted as the biggest U.S. electricity infrastructure undertaking since the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s.

Two tribes joined with archaeologists and environmentalists in filing a lawsuit in January, accusing the U.S. Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management of refusing for nearly 15 years to recognize “overwhelming evidence of the cultural significance” of the remote San Pedro Valley to Native American tribes including the Tohono O’odham, Hopi, Zuni and San Carlos Apache Tribe.

The suit was filed after Pattern Energy received approval to transmit electricity generated by its SunZia wind farm in central New Mexico through the San Pedro Valley, east of Tucson.

The lawsuit called the valley “one of the most intact, prehistoric and historical ... landscapes in southern Arizona,” and asked the court to issue restraining orders or permanent injunctions to halt construction.

In denying the motions, Judge Jennifer Zipps said the plaintiffs were years too late in bringing their claims and that the Bureau of Land Management had fulfilled its obligations to identify historic sites and prepare an inventory of cultural resources.

Tohono O'odham Attorney General Howard Shanker argued during a hearing in March that claims by federal land managers that they could not find any evidence of the valley's significance to area tribes was disingenuous at best. He referenced an academic book about the valley published by the University of Arizona Press and the declaration of a tribal member who once served as a cultural resource officer.

Shanker said The transmission lines will forever transform “a place of beauty, prayer and solitude for generations of O'odham who want to connect with the spirits of their direct ancestors. So the irreparable harm is clear.”

Government representatives told the judge that the SunZia project is a key renewable energy initiative and that the tribes waited too long to bring their claims. They also argued that tribal representatives accompanied government officials in surveying the area in 2018 to identify and inventory any potential cultural resources.

Shantar Baxter Clinton is the hourly News Reporter for KSFR. He’s earned an Associates of the Arts from Bard College at Simons Rock and a Bachelors in journalism with a minor in anthropology from the University of Maine.