The Main Stream

Aug 6, 2014 12:26 AM by Tom McNamara and Michel Marizco

N4T Investigators: Arizona holding up law enforcement comm tower on U.S. border

ARIVACA - Arizona has long been a critic of the federal government's slow efforts in securing the U.S.-Mexico border. But now the News 4 Tucson Investigators have discovered that when it comes to a communications tower crucial to law enforcement on the border, it's Arizona that's slowing things down.

Two years ago, Gov. Jan Brewer drew national attention when she waved her finger into President Obama's face. She was pressing him about an earlier meeting where they had talked about the border and illegal immigration.

But now the News 4 Tucson Investigators have learned, when it comes to a stalled communications tower in Southern Arizona, fingers are waving at the state.

Jim Chilton owns a ranch in the small town of Arivaca. More than a year ago, Govnet, a Scottsdale contractor, started building a communications tower here. It's a cellphone tower, the only one in town. But it's also equipped for law enforcement. The signal for police radios in this area is always spotty. And U.S. Border Patrol officials tell him the agency is considering using the tower, too, though there are no official plans to do so.

What's holding it up is a 250-foot trench.

"Well, currently, the tower's been in for over a year. But Govnet did not have permission to dig a trench from the electrical box that I helped them provide on my private land to the tower," Chilton said.

So the tower is up, but it's powered off a cable and Govnet can't fully equip the massive tower.

"You can't put anything else up there because it doesn't have enough power," said Chilton as he hoisted the thick black cable that's currently lying on the ground. "They just got to get the state approval to run the line up to there and it's taken over a year so far."

Chilton and other residents say they need the tower because law enforcement communications are limited in the sweeping mountain ranges that surround Arivaca.

Karen McCoy is vice president of Govnet.

"It's about 250 feet. We have a right of way that is prohibiting us from digging a conduit to have full power to the site at the moment," she said.

McCoy says an archeology report has already been completed. So why the hold up?

"I'm not sure. It's a process. They say they're waiting for their archeology stamp on it for clearance which has already been done and reports are clear. It's just waiting for them to sign off," she said.

Chilton is frustrated.

"The 250-foot right to dig a trench is currently on the cultural archivist's desk," he said. "The report has been made, it has been completed. All he has to do is sign it."

Late Tuesday, State Land Department Legislative Policy Administrator, Bill Boyd, responded to KVOA's repeated inquiries. He said all applicants are told these types of permissions can take up to 12 months and that Govnet started the process last September. He said some clarification needed to be completed and the agency is now moving forward with the approval. The trench is scheduled to be presented to a review committee on August 14.

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