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County is asked to support efforts to reopen 48,000 sand dune acres

March 07, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

The county Board of Supervisors was asked Tuesday to support efforts to reopen 48,000 acres of Algodones Sand Dunes closed to off-road vehicles in November.

Action, including the possibility of legal action, is being considered by the La Verne-based American Sand Association, which has retained legal counsel in San Diego.

Jerry Seaver, the association's chief financial officer, said no lawsuit has been filed, however.

"We're hoping things don't come to that," Seaver said Tuesday afternoon, adding that legal counsel was retained because "everything is being done to the letter of the law."

Seaver said it is preferable that the parties reach some kind of resolution outside of the courtroom.

ASA executive committee chairwoman Vicki Warren said the primary focus of the group is to get the dunes reopened to off-roaders.


The dunes were closed in November to recreational off-road vehicles to protect the Peirson's milkvetch, a plant that grows in the dunes.

The closures are part of five interim agreements resulting from negotiations between the BLM and three environmental groups — the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility — that filed a lawsuit against BLM alleging it failed to consult with the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service on potential impacts to endangered species from a wide range of activities allowed in the sand dunes.

Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors was asked by Bob Ham to throw its weight behind the sand association's efforts. Ham is executive director of the Imperial County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business.

"The American Sand Association has retained legal counsel … and they intend to pay for all the expenses, even if the county joins," Ham told the board. "They are taking donations."

Ham said contributions will be sought from organizations throughout the Imperial Valley.

County legal staff was directed to provide information by next week on how the county might participate.

Separately, supervisors Wally Leimgruber and Gary Wyatt went to Washington, D.C., last week to discuss the dunes closures and the potential economic effects with members of the new administration and Congress.

"They are well appraised of the impacts of the recent closures," Leimgruber said this morning.

Leimgruber said that while in Washington, he and Wyatt were able to meet with David Smith, the assistant director of the Department of the Interior, and with staff members of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Leimgruber said Smith expressed concerns that the five stipulations require BLM to perform certain actions for which there is neither money nor staff, and that the closures will likely impact family jobs.

Regarding the possibility that the American Sand Association might file a lawsuit against BLM, Leimgruber said, "Taking on the federal government is no small task."

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

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