Thursday, June 12, 2008

Environmental Groups File Lawsuit to Isolate Dudleyville and Endanger its Residents


FLORENCE – On June 4, 2008, three environmental organizations filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court located in Phoenix, Arizona, seeking to, among other things, force Pinal County to close a roadway that has been in existence for more than 100 years and that serves as an important transportation corridor into and out of the small town of Dudleyville.  The lawsuit, filed by an attorney representing the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the Maricopa Audubon Society (MAS) and the Tucson Audubon Society (TAS), is based on false allegations with regard to the County's activities in maintaining the roadway and on misrepresentations concerning the ownership of the property on which the roadway is located.


Pinal County will vigorously defend itself from the unfounded allegations in the lawsuit and will use its best efforts to ensure that the roadway remains open and available for use by the citizens of Dudleyville and to ensure that emergency (police, fire, paramedic) services can be provided to the public and visitors in a prompt and effective manner.


The roadway, generally known as San Pedro Road, serves as the western gateway to Dudleyville, and one of only two roads into and out of the town.  It has been located along the same general alignment for decades and is used daily by residents of the town and by school bus providers serving the children in the area.  The road also allows for the most direct access across the San Pedro River into the town for fire and emergency medical providers.


In their lawsuit, the CBD, MAS and TAS claim that the County has been "bulldozing in the stream" and "importing fill from outside the area," thereby "accelerating erosion and destruction of streamside habitat."  Those allegations are untrue.  The only "bulldozing" the County has done on San Pedro Road this year was to remove an earthen, rock-filled barrier that was illegally constructed across the road by landowners who are working in conjunction with CBD and the Audubon Societies.  Those landowners excavated fill material from another landowner's property and dumped it at a point near where the road enters the west side of Dudleyville.  After obtaining a court order authorizing its removal, the County used its equipment to push the fill material to the side and re-open the road.  If anything illegal was done in these incidents it was by the landowners who excavated material from another person's privately-owned property and dumped it across the road.


The environmental groups contend that one of their principal motivations for filing it is to protect the Southwestern willow flycatcher, a species of small bird, some of which have been seen nesting in the area.  There is no need to close the road for the protection of the flycatcher, however, because the birds are not adversely affected by the roadway traffic.  The flycatchers first began nesting activities in this area long after the road was open and being utilized by vehicle traffic.  The birds have continued to populate the area even though San Pedro Road has remained open to public travel.


"It is not our intent to try this case in the media," Supervisor Lionel Ruiz said.  "At the same time, we want the people of Pinal County to know that we will vigorously defend against false allegations.  This road is a lifeline in the event of an emergency and we intend for it to stay open."  Ruiz is Supervisor for District 1, the area where the road is located.


In prior meetings concerning San Pedro Road, County Supervisors have stated they will do whatever is within their power to ensure that the road remains open.  It is not anticipated that the filing of this lawsuit will alter their position.  They remain committed first and foremost to the safety of the residents in the Dudleyville area and will continue to operate and maintain San Pedro Road in an environmentally safe manner.