County Warns Ranchers On Border Fence
In response to a plan by the Minuteman Project to construct an Israeli-style border barrier on private land near Naco, the Cochise County Planning Department is advising area ranchers that any such project must comply with county zoning rules.

In a communiqué issued last week, the Minutemen announced they would begin constructing an Israeli-style security fence at an Arizona ranch in early July. The anti-illegal immigration group is currently overseeing the construction of a barbed-wire range fence on the border-front property of Jack and John Ladd in Palominas. Speaking at the May 27 groundbreaking for the Ladd’s fence, Minuteman leader Chris Simcox said his group was eyeing a property 4 1/2 miles east of Naco for its next effort.

Using that information, Cochise County Supervisor Paul Newman and Planning Director Judy Anderson drafted a letter to two local property owners asking for clarification.

“We have certain zoning regulations in place, and we need to apply them consistently and fairly to everybody,” Anderson said. “So we may need to make a determination about whether this fence actually meets our exemption for fences in rural areas.”

Her office was contacting the ranchers to gather details — such as the height, materials, and intended use of any potential Minuteman-built fence — before making any rulings, she said.

But the national executive director of the Minutemen, Huachuca City resident Al Garza, said the county’s efforts were little more than a scare tactic. He said the barrier-building program would move forward as planned.

“If the county government — and in particular, Paul Newman — think they are going to intimidate us, they are totally wrong,” he said.

“The bottom line is that we’re going to continue with the fence no matter what Paul Newman says. He’s not thinking about his constituents and he’s not thinking about border security — he’s thinking about Mexico and he’s thinking about illegal immigrants.”

Still, Garza said that if necessary, his group would petition the county for a permit to build the Israeli-style barrier — a design featuring two parallel 12- to 15-foot fences flanked by anti-vehicle ditches and 8 feet of concertina wire.

Attempts to reach Newman were unsuccessful.

The first of the county’s letters, addressed to Mesquite Ridge resident Dick Hodges and signed by Anderson, was sent Thursday afternoon.

“(I)t appears that the proposed fence will serve an agricultural purpose, similar to the fence constructed by the Minutemen on Jack Ladd’s ranch,” the letter reads. “Based on this information, pursuant to Arizona law, the fence is exempt from county zoning regulations.”

But should the fence be more extensive in nature, the letter continues, Hodges would need to contact the county to discuss possible permitting requirements.

Anderson said her office had spoken in person with Hodges’ son before sending the letter, and received assurances if a Minuteman fence were built at the family ranch, it would be of a typical farm variety. But Hodges told the Herald/Review that plans for the fence had changed since that discussion.

Even so, he thought any differences could be worked out.

“I’m not going to do anything against the county,” he said. “But at the same time, the county hasn’t done a lot for me, either.”

Anderson said she and Newman still were trying to identify the owner of the second property.

In April, Simcox announced the Minutemen would begin building an Israeli-style barrier on private land along the Arizona border in hopes of inspiring a similar effort by the federal government.

But the Ladds, later identified as the owners of the land, rejected the design of the barrier, saying they preferred a smaller, reinforced barbed-wire fence that would keep out Mexican cattle and stop drive-throughs from occurring. The Minutemen said they would change their plans to respect the Ladds’ wishes.

At a groundbreaking ceremony on Memorial Day weekend, a spokeswoman said an estimated 350 volunteers would construct 10 miles of the scaled-down range fence.

Two weeks later, however, the Minutemen acknowledged they had hired a contractor to finish the project. And while the group’s leaders said the move had been made to ensure quality control, some who had observed the effort suggested it was due to a lack of volunteers.

Critics have long asserted that the group inflates its membership numbers.

In the press release issued last week, the Minutemen said that after the next barrier is installed in Arizona, they will build additional fences in Texas, California and New Mexico. The release said more than 1,500 people had already volunteered to help.

The group also said it had hired two fencing companies to run the work sites and coordinate volunteer construction crews. Teams of four to 10 volunteers under the guidance of professional fence contractors would be able to install as much as three miles of fence in a week, the statement said.

The Minutemen had not yet determined the exact location of the next Arizona fence, Garza said Friday. But he confirmed the group was focusing on the area east of Naco.