Activity halts on land for oil refinery

 

With the recent court hearing, the defendants agreed to the temporary restraining order sought by the tribe, said Frank R. Jozwiak, the attorney representing the Quechans in the case.

 

BY JOYCE LOBECK, SUN STAFF WRITER

April 18, 2007 - 10:25PM

 

            The U.S. District Court in Phoenix has approved a temporary halt to any activity on land recently transferred from the federal government intended for a planned oil refinery in eastern Yuma County. The defendants filed a voluntary standstill stipulation that stated that they would take no action on the property until a hearing was held.

            The court action follows an injunction sought by the Quechan Indian Tribe, which claimed in a lawsuit filed March 30 that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation inadequately addressed the potential impact of the land transfer and the proposed refinery.

            While the land isn't inside the tribe's reservation boundaries, it is important to the Quechans historically and culturally, said Mike Jackson Sr., tribal president.

            With the recent court hearing, the defendants agreed to the temporary restraining order sought by the tribe, said Frank R. Jozwiak, the attorney representing the Quechans in the case.

            All parties agreed to not transfer any more land and not conduct any ground-disturbing activity on any of the transfer lands, including land already transferred, until June 30, Jozwiak said, or until the court issues its decision on the tribe’s application for a preliminary injunction while this case is pending.

            Joe Liebhauser, director of the USBR Resource Management Office for the Lower Colorado Region, said he couldn't comment on the case because it is in litigation.

            However, he defended the bureau's efforts to locate and preserve historic sites on the land in question, saying that federal guidelines for such an effort were followed closely.

            As a result, Liebhauer said, some land was removed from the proposed land transfer to be set aside because of concentrations of cultural sites found there.

            At issue is land recently transferred by the USBR to the Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District. The district acquired the land and facilities for the irrigation district, which WMIDD operated and had already reimbursed USBR for the development cost.

            As part of the transaction, WMIDD purchased some additional land, which it then sold to Arizona Clean Fuels to build an oil refinery.

            The nonfederal defendants have until April 20 to file motions to dismiss the tribe's application for a preliminary injunction.

            A hearing on the preliminary injunction is scheduled for May 31 in Phoenix, said Jozwiak.

            If the court does not issue its decision before the stipulation expires on June 30, the Quechan Tribe will have an opportunity to refile its application for a temporary restraining order to maintain the status quo until there is a ruling on its application, Jozwiak said.