Judge rules against Quechan in refinery land transfer case
A federal judge has denied the Quechan Tribe's application for a preliminary injunction against a transfer of land for the proposed oil refinery in eastern Yuma County.
The tribe had sought the injunction, claiming that the defendants had violated federal laws by failing to adequately analyze the transfer's potential impact on environmental and cultural resources.
On March 26, in accordance with a 2000 law authorizing the action, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation transferred 39,000 acres to the Wellton/Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District. That included land and facilities for the district's operation, as well as 1,400 acres that the district then sold to Arizona Clean Fuels for its proposed oil refinery site.
The Quechans filed their suit March 30, alleging the Bureau of Reclamation violated the Wellton-Mohawk Transfer Act by transferring land for the development of an oil refinery, failed to properly address the impact of future uses of the land such as the refinery and violated the National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act.
While waiting for the court to rule, all parties had voluntarily agreed to a "standstill" of any activity on the land in question.
Judge James A. Teilborg of the U.S. District Court in Arizona issued the ruling Friday.
In the ruling, Teilborg stated: "The court concludes that plaintiff has failed to show a strong likelihood of success on the merits because (the Bureau of Reclamation) has taken the requisite hard look at the environmental and cultural consequences of the title transfer. Further, the court concludes that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that it will suffer irreparable harm or that there is a possibility of irreparable harm in this matter."
Teilborg also concluded that the Bureau of Reclamation "has no authority over the existence, location or construction of the refinery." Furthermore, he noted that the oil refinery would be subject to a separate permitting process to ensure it complies with all federal laws regarding the protection of sensitive areas.
Frank R. Jozwiak, the attorney representing the Quechan in the case, said, "(Teilborg's ruling) is under review. We have not had an opportunity to study the ruling or consult with the tribe."
The ruling came as a relief to Glenn McGinnis, CEO of Arizona Clean Fuels. "I think the judge reviewed the facts and determined that the federal government, (the Bureau of Reclamation) and the district acted in good faith to make sure all the requirements were complied with."
According to the court document, an outside archaeological consulting firm, Statistical Research Inc., had conducted a survey of the land to be transferred to identify culturally sensitive sites. As a result, Wellton/Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District and the Bureau of Reclamation removed 2,124 acres with 19 known eligible sites from the transfer. Those acres will remain under federal ownership until further processing is completed.
"We will do what we need to as part of the process," McGinnis said. "We knew the project would be under the microscope to be sure we complied with all regulations. We've always made a commitment to comply with everything required."
McGinnis said Arizona Clean Fuels will conduct additional surveying of the land it bought for potential historical sites. However, he added, all the land that Arizona Clean Fuels purchased is "disturbed land. All 1,400 acres had been previously farmed."
Joyce Lobeck can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6853.