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Local officials may testify at hearing on sand dunes

February 14, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

Imperial County officials will be in federal district court in San Francisco this afternoon for a hearing on the last two of five interim agreements that close off areas of the desert.

Supervisor Wally Leimgruber and Randy Rister, county director of property services, are hoping to testify at the 2 p.m. hearing.

At Tuesday's county Board of Supervisors meeting, Rister briefed the board on information being provided to the court.

He said concerns with the latest agreements include continued recreational access to the desert, the closure of washes that would preclude gas and power companies from accessing their facilities for maintenance, mining expansion restrictions, hunting restrictions, perching restrictions for power lines expected to remove generations of nests of birds of prey, camping policy inconsistencies and more.

"Basically what it does is impacts the land-use planning capability that the county has historically had and it will certainly impact the economic base that the county needs at this time," Rister said.

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The latest agreement is part of five stipulations resulting from an agreement between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, several environmental groups that had filed a lawsuit against BLM alleging it failed to consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regarding potential impacts to endangered species from off-highway vehicle use in the sand dunes, and several off-highway vehicle groups. A decision to not litigate the issue by the federal government led to the settlement.

The latest stipulation also closes 54,000 acres east of Highway 78 to camping, among 47 separate actions required to be taken by the BLM.

The county has filed a legal brief with the court opposing the latest closures. Other opponents to the closures include San Bernardino County, the cities of Palm Springs and La Quinta, the California Mining Association, the Alliance for Habitat Conservation and the California Alliance for Jobs.

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

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