Lakeside residents pull together to oppose El Monte sand mining project
The sentiment was pervasive among East County residents who gathered at the Lakeside Christian Church on July 28, that they are outnumbered and outflanked in their incipient campaign against the proposed El Monte Sand Mining and Nature Preserve project. The developers of project, as envisioned, will exercise an option to acquire the 580 acre site from the Helix Water District and in phases take high quality construction sand from 30 percent of the land.
This was the first meeting of Lakeside residents living in and nearby the El Monte Valley area, to organize their opposition to the 15-year-long sand extraction and habitat restoration, currently scheduled to begin in 2016. Turnout surprised the panel of concerned community organizers who are taking the initial lead, with more than 300 attendees filling the church sanctuary’s pews and spilling over into a standing room only crowd. They have titled their group under formation as Save El Monte Valley.
The organizer panelists spoke in terms of politically salient “talking points” to approach those government agencies that will ultimately issue official approval, or disapproval of the project. Audience members spoke in terms of their quiet, undisturbed way of life along El Monte Valley, and how they are passionately committed to preserving a rural, country environment for the families with children and horses, who make the valley their home.
All there agreed, though, that this early assembly was for brain storming about how to proceed in effective opposition to the El Monte Nature Preserve project. Will opponents treat this as a San Diego County issue, even a national issue, reaching out to such environmentalism powerhouses as the Sierra Club, or will Save El Monte Valley retain a local-roots focus representing only those people directly affected by the planned sand extraction and habitat restoration processes? Will organizers establish online templates for writing letters of comment against the proposed project, or will only some suggested themes be made available? These were a few of the questions addressed.
Panelist Ana Nita discussed the potential loss of habitat for area wildlife, should the sand mining eventuate. Others decried probable disturbance of Native American artifacts buried within the valley, where pottery shards and arrowheads are commonly discovered.
Billy Ortiz detailed how local bee populations might be killed off by the sand extraction and truck traffic. Ortiz recounted how four federally protected species, including golden eagles and blue-gray gnatcatchers, live in the valley. And he mentioned the risks for those living and working near the sand mining to contract valley fever, from fungal spores that might be unearthed. Ortiz continued, denoting possible exposure to East County residents as far away as Alpine, if the valley fever spores became windborne.
Zach Noonan described himself as a newcomer to the valley, having moved to the two-mile marker in 1993. He talked of the likelihood of water pollution and lowering of the water table, which feeds residents’ wells. He cited potential contamination of the valley homeowners’ well water, from the dual effects of loss of the sand filtering the water and chemical dust suppression compounds that could be used in mining mitigation processes.
Organizers have collected around 1,000 individual signatures on an online petition stating each signer’s opposition to the El Monte Valley sand mining. They have set their sights on the next oppositional planning meeting, which is to be held in San Diego in early August at the San Diego River Conservancy’s scheduled gathering. Also next month, the El Monte Nature Preserve planners will be submitting further notices and preliminary reports to advance the sand mining plans.
Organizers of the opposition will be seeking to enlist support from outside East County for thwarting the El Monte Nature Preserve project. Next after that, those intent on preventing the El Monte sand extraction plan to focus on exerting community influence on the Planning Commission and on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, where they are looking to rack up three votes against the project.