Newly published EIR moves El Monte sand mining project forward

0
91
Avitar.jpg

After two years of delay, the County of San Diego just published the Subsequent Environmental Impact Report and the Reclamation Plan for the sand mining project proposed for El Monte Valley in Lakeside. The public has 60 days to comment to support or oppose the biggest sand mining project in Lakeside and East County San Diego.

This project has stirred up the community for the past two decades in an almost lost battle to keep the land, the water and the air as is in El Monte Valley, ancient home of the Kumeyaay.

After two years of delay, the County of San Diego just published the Subsequent Environmental Impact Report and the Reclamation Plan for the sand mining project proposed for El Monte Valley in Lakeside. The public has 60 days to comment to support or oppose the biggest sand mining project in Lakeside and East County San Diego.

This project has stirred up the community for the past two decades in an almost lost battle to keep the land, the water and the air as is in El Monte Valley, ancient home of the Kumeyaay.

It all started in 1997 when a golf company leased the land from owner Helix Water District (HWD) to build a golf course. HWD claimed that without having a permit though, El Capitan Golf Course, LLC started digging for sand for a year until the County caught up with the operations and tried to stop it. The golf course company partnered up with environmentalist Michael Beck, current chairman of the San Diego Planning Commission, and changed its name into El Monte Nature Preserve, LLC (EMNP). One member who was on the board of the Helix Water District contacted recently and who asked to remain anonymous said “the newly formed company claimed that mining for sand was part of an approved restoration project and, because it couldn’t sue the County, then it sued Helix Water District for blocking it.”

The land was never restored though. The deep craters and the golf posts are still there after 20 years.

Both companies reached a court settlement in 2014, when three out of five of the Helix Water District board members voted to sell the land to EMNP for $9 million.

Bill Adams, one of the managing partners at EMNP claimed publicly the sand was appraised at $2 billion. With the land being classified as a Mineral Resource Zone (MRZ), EMNP has applied for a sand mining permit.

Under the current plan, EMNP wants to extract 12.5 million tons of sand to a depth of approximately 41 feet on almost 480 acres of land for the next 12 years. 157 trucks would be hauling aggregates in an out every day between 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The plan proposes restoration of the area after each phase of the planned extraction. Beck and his non-profit organization would get paid to execute the restoration.

The community is concerned about several issues voiced in the preliminary comments submitted three years ago to the EIR and during numerous rallies and scooping meetings with the sand miners and the county.

El Monte Valley sits on the third largest aquifer in the county and the concern is that the mining plant will destroy it via extraction and pollution, causing an environmental disaster and a waste of a crucial natural resource in a state like California, plagued by the drought. The valley residents would lose access to their wells. They would have to start paying for city water and Helix Water District would have to spend money to connect them.

Locals are also worried about the Valley Fever, a deadly fungus found in the El Monte Valley. The fungus spreads by wind, with Santa Ana conditions prevalent in the area.

EMNP claimed they would use water to keep the sand wet every day in order to limit the spread of the fungus. EMNP does not own the underground water and will have to outsource to a provider, which would involve additional construction outside of the purchased land and large quantities of daily water usage on 480 acres during the 12-year project.

There is only one paved road out of the valley, the two-lane El Monte Road leading to the El Capitan Water Reservoir that connects more than 200 residents to the town. Locals claim that almost 160 trucks on the road every three minutes every day, five days a week, will create a significant impact on the traffic in Lakeside and will pose a serious risk in case of emergencies during the fire season.

Moreover, with four more large projects planned in the area, there would be a cumulative impact on traffic and quality of life for the Lakesiders.

Many of the public comments included in the preliminary environmental report talked about the potential environmental disaster if the sand mining project is approved. El Monte Valley is home to over 13,000 creatures, many endangered species and a luscious flora with century old oak trees. Based on a one-year study conducted by the United Sate Geological Survey scientists, there are more than 23 glossy-snakes in the area, making El Monte Valley the eighth largest natural habitat to host this protected species nationwide. There are other endangered and protected species living in the valley, such as the Least Bell’s Vireo, California Gnatcatcher, the Golden and Bald Eagles, and also the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly found nowhere else.

El Monte Valley is sacred Kumeyaay land, a place of historical and cultural significance proven by the ancient artifacts and metate found in the area.

The proponents of the sand mining project claim this will bring needed jobs in the area and satisfy the demand for local sand for construction. However, there is no stipulation in the Reclamation Plan that the sand miners are committing to hire locals.

Ultimately, the residents asked San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob during public meetings to request Michael Beck’s resignation due to conflict of interest. Beck has two non-profit environmental organizations heavily involved in restoring sand mines (Hanson Pond in Lakeside, located in El Monte Valley), Endangered Habitat League and Endangered Habitat Conservancy. Beck is purchasing land through one of these non-profit with grants, public funds and donations and is using the other to restore land using, again, donations, grants and public money. Beck partnered up with El Monte Nature Preserve, LLC. almost from the beginning to secure the contract of the restoration post-sand extraction. Jacob appointed Beck and he helped her win the supervisor seat two decades ago when they paired up on environmental issues. Both Beck and Rierdan organized fundraising campaigns for Supervisor Dave Roberts and Dianne Jacob.

Another key player is Robin Rierdan, Executive Director of the Lakeside River Park Conservancy, a local non-profit financed through public grants and donations that is operating by a similar model as Beck’s, as this was his former place of employment. Rierdan proposed digging for sand in 2008 as part of a “flood control plan” that did not go any further. Her organization has been working to restore and preserve two sand mining projects in the riverbed in Lakeside, part of the Walker Preserve and Hanson Pond, owned by Beck.

After initially claiming neutrality in the matter, Lakeside River Park Conservancy gave in to public pressure and published a statement few years ago saying they oppose the sand mining project in the valley. The organization also receives funding to restore Beck’s property at Hanson Pond.

The valley is one of the last destinations for equine activities in the county and the trails in El Monte Valley are proposed to be included in a regional plan meant to connect Julian to the Pacific Ocean, going through Lakeside. This mining plant may jeopardize that.

One entity that could have a decisive impact on the final resolution has not spoken yet. The City of San Diego owns the pueblo rights for the aquifer.

The community is invited to participate in the public meeting scheduled for Sept. 25 at the Lakeside Community Center, starting at 5:30 p.m.

Bill Adams, a managing partner with El Monte Nature Preserve was contacted but declined to comment.

The public review of the EIR is open until Oct. 29 at 4:00 p.m. The report is distributed at the local Lakeside library and is published on the Planning and Development Services website at: http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/pds/ceqa_public_review.html

Requests for additional info and on how to submit comments should be directed to Robert Hingtgen at (858) 694-3712 or Robert.Hingtgen@sdcounty.ca.gov, or Heather Steven at (858) 495-5802 or Heather.Steven@sdcounty.ca.gov.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here