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Supporters of buoy proposal press IID to act on minimizing drownings in All-American Canal

February 01, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

Proponents of stringing ropes and buoys across the All-American Canal to help minimize drownings said they will continue their efforts until successful.

San Diego businessman John Hunter said the project depends on getting support from the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors.

"What will push us over the top will be three to four calls a day to IID directors," he said.

The issue has been discussed with the IID board, but the board has not taken any formal action, deferring to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. A meeting among the project's proponents, an IID study group and Reclamation is set for Feb. 8 to discuss the issue.

In a Nov. 27 letter from Reclamation to the IID, the Reclamation area manager says discussion with the U.S. Border Patrol and a reclamation safety officer indicate "the buoys would encourage more people to cross with the likelihood of having more deaths and their overall usefulness would be minimal."


Said Hunter of the use of ropes and buoys at a Project for Immigrant Lives Task Force meeting Wednesday in El Centro: "I believe in strong border controls also, I just don't think people should drown if they get across."

Under Hunter's proposal, ropes and buoys would be strung every mile along the All-American Canal for 80 miles similar to those the IID already has in place. He said numerous alternatives to ropes and buoys were considered.

"We looked at these options and compared them to our preferred solution. Our preferred solution is just ropes and buoys," Hunter said. The estimated cost of the ropes would be $92,000, or $1,150 each. Hunter said volunteers would install the ropes and buoys in three to four weeks' time.

"It's really a piece of cake to put these together," he said.

Other alternatives included search lights and cameras at an estimated cost of $3 million; a fence, estimated at $20 million; and an infrared camera and monitoring system, estimated at $5 million. These alternatives would require one to three years to install in addition to substantial amounts of electricity, maintenance and an environmental assessment.

Despite the ease and low cost of the proposal, Hunter said he expects continued resistance from the IID because of the pressure the IID board is under from outside sources, though eventually the IID will agree to the plan.

Part of the problem, Hunter said, is that some people think the ropes will make the crossings of people from Mexico into the United States easier.

El Centro City Councilman David Dhillon said some people erroneously believe drug trafficking will increase also.

Separately, San Diego businessman Bob Beken gave an update on an emergency communications device called Rescue that would be dropped from a helicopter onto the desert floor. When activated, it would send a signal to an already in-place satellite system that would automatically upload specific information onto a World Wide Web site. That information would be used to locate a person in need of help.

"The purpose of these things is only to call for help and give you a second chance to see your family again," he said.

Beken said the company will file an application with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to install the devices in the local desert.

BLM realty specialist Lynda Kastoll said BLM would have to perform environmental analyses of each of the proposed locations of the device before they could be placed in the desert.

Because such detailed information would be needed, Beken said it would be more costly to install the $4,000 devices due to having to install them using a telephone pole installation truck instead of dropping them by helicopter.

The 1,500 pound, 12-foot-long devices penetrate the ground four to six feet so that they cannot be removed and are made of one inch-thick HY-80 steel, a high-yield steel used to make U.S. nuclear submarine hulls.

In other reports, Kerry Anderson, assistant Border Patrol El Centro sector chief, said apprehensions of illegal aliens are down by 9 percent this fiscal year compared to the same time last year. He said there have been nine rescues, including two in water, two in motor vehicles and three listed as "other" for the fiscal year to-date. Also there have been 18 deaths, including five drownings, six in motor vehicles, two listed as unknown causes and five listed as other.

"It's up over last year, but that is mainly due to motor vehicle accidents," Anderson said.

The Project for Immigrant Lives Task Force was established in January 1999 and involves elected officials, law enforcement personnel, medical experts, business and religious leaders and concerned residents. The project's goal is finding solutions to prevent further immigrant deaths in the deserts of the Imperial and Coachella valleys.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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