Judge orders halt to construction near Yuma 5-3-07

PHOENIX (AP) - A federal judge has ordered a temporary halt to any construction on acreage near Yuma that could become home to the nation's first oil refinery in 30 years.

The Quechan Tribe has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court here that claims the federal government did an inadequate environmental review of artifacts and cultural resources before transferring the land.

The 3,500-member tribe wants to “prevent further destruction of Quechan cultural sites and resources” and force the federal government to follow environmental- and historic-preservation laws that govern such land transfers, according to tribal attorney Frank Jozwiak.

Once the tribe is satisfied that its historical and cultural interests are identified and appropriate steps are in place to protect and preserve those interests, Jozwiak said the tribe will not oppose the land transfer or the refinery.

Arizona Clean Fuels Yuma has been attempting to build the refinery for more than a decade.

The group has secured a federal air-quality permit needed to build a 150,000-barrel-per-day refinery, the first new U.S. refinery project to obtain such a permit in three decades.

Even though the federal lawsuit challenges the land transfer, refinery backers say they will continue to pursue other aspects of the $3.7 billion project, including securing financing, oil supplies and government approvals.

The Clean Fuels group still plans to start production of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel in late 2011.

It is negotiating financing details with six to eight domestic and foreign investors that would help pay for the project and has letters of interest from Canadian oil suppliers that could provide the fuel to be converted.

The group also must identify pipeline routes through Arizona and Mexico that would transfer the refined fuel.

Arizona Clean Fuels and other parties named in the lawsuit agreed to a judge's order last month, preventing transfer or disturbance of the land until June 30 or until the court rules otherwise.

The lawsuit, filed by the Quechans of the Fort Yuma Reservation, centers on the federal Bureau of Reclamation's plan to transfer more than 47,626 acres of federal land to the Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District.