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Torres Martinez tribe added to Salton Sea Authority board

June 20, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

The stage has been set for the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Tribe to become a voting member of the Salton Sea Authority board of directors as the result of legislation signed last week by Gov. Gray Davis.

AB959, authored by Assemblyman David Kelley, R-Hemet, opens the door for the tribe to become the authority's fifth voting member, joining the Imperial Irrigation District, Coachella Valley Water District and Imperial and Riverside counties.

"As a major stakeholder and landowner around and under the Salton Sea, we welcome the opportunity to sit with other elected officials and make decisions about the future of the Salton Sea," said tribal Chair Mary Belardo in a SSA press release.

"This is something we've been working on with the tribe to include them," said Andy Horne, IID board president and SSA board member.

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"There were some legal roadblocks," Horne said. "This bill will eliminate that."

Kelley's bill declares the tribe to be a public agency, authorized to enter a joint-powers agreement to participate in the SSA. Previously, state law did not permit tribes to be members of such authorities.

The legislation will be effective Jan. 1, 2002. Membership of the tribe on the board is subject to board approval, something Horne doesn't "foresee as being a problem."

"I'm pleased that through the efforts of Dave Kelley, the authority and the tribe, the way has been cleared for the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Tribe to join with us in working to restore the Salton Sea," said Riverside County Supervisor Roy Wilson, chairman of the SSA.

The tribe has been active with the SSA despite not having a voting member on the board, Horne said.

Belardo is a regular attendee at SSA meetings and has given input to the board, Horne said.

The SSA was created in 1993 and the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Tribe has been ex-officio member since then.

The authority is the local lead agency in Salton Sea restoration efforts and has joined with the federal lead agency, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal and state agencies to select and build a project to reduce the salinity of the sea and stabilize its elevation. A preferred project is expected to be announced later this summer.

Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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