Change could benefit big-ticket project funding

October 25, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Even more federal funding could be made available to clean up the New River after federal congressional redistricting if it means a new representative in the U.S. House, according to some civic leaders here.

For the past 18 years, Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, has represented Imperial County and the U.S. land through which the foul New River flows.

After redistricting, Imperial County will be added to the South Bay San Diego District currently represented by Bob Filner, D-San Diego.

Former Calexico Mayor Fred Knechel said during a recent gathering of former city mayors the redistricting that places Imperial County into a congressional district with San Ysidro and other border communities could help future efforts to attract funds here for big-ticket projects, including the New River.


"In other words, we will no longer have Duncan Hunter. We will have Filner or someone else," he said.

Mayor Victor Carrillo, who also spoke during the gathering of Calexico mayors, said, "Our local representative, Duncan Hunter, has not been supportive of cleaning up the river."

Hunter's spokesman, Michael Harrison said in an interview with this newspaper Wednesday, "I don't know who said that and I don't want to know, but the New River has been a major priority since (Hunter has) been in Congress."

Harrison added, "Mr. Hunter has represented the Valley for 18 years out of his 20 in Congress. He's worked very hard to clean up the New River and it has remained among his legislative priorities.

"Millions of federal dollars (have been appropriated for New River clean up) that necessarily wouldn't be there if not for the efforts of Duncan Hunter."

When asked on Wednesday whether he is happy with the current condition of the New River, Hunter said, "Well, no — but there are three projects that are currently underway that relate to the river and the Salton Sea."

First, he said, "We're working to complete the construction of the sewage plant in Mexicali that will keep the sewage away from the New River."

He added the bi-nationally funded project should be completed next year.

Second, Hunter said, "We're working with the Bureau of Reclamation to cleanse the river in the 50-plus miles it winds through the Imperial Valley.

"We are building marshes that include filtration ponds which will eventually filter the river through 50 miles of marshes.

He said the marshes could also be utilized by hunters, fisherman and birdwatchers and would not conflict with plans by city governments to develop along the New River.

As far as the quality of the water after passing through one of these marshes, Hunter said, "You'll be amazed at the purity of the water that comes out of this system. It takes the toxins and heavy metals out of the water."

In the discussion of the marshes, Hunter specifically mentioned the efforts of Leon Lesicka, the water source coordinator of Desert Wildlife Unlimited, a local nonprofit organization.

The third phase of the clean-up deals with reducing the salinity in the Salton Sea.

Hunter said projects such as experimental solar evaporation ponds could help lower the salt content.

Harrison said, "Mr. Hunter has made it clear to his colleagues here in Congress the importance of cleaning up the river and the Salton Sea"

When asked if Hunter would support a sort of "Marshall Plan" for the Mexican border communities that would make it worth their while to clean up the water that flows into the New River, Harrison said, "That hasn't tended to be his policy in the past."

During a visit to the Imperial Valley, Filner said he favors a sort of "Marshall Plan" which would mean millions of dollars in aid for Mexican infrastructure needs, schools and waste facilities in border areas.

Harrison said Filner "may be talking in abstract about a ‘Marshall Plan' but Hunter's votes in support of a cleaner New River are on the record."

Harrison added, "It was study this and study that until Mr. Hunter brought about an action plan rather than sitting around talking about it — actual dirt is turning over, pulling the contaminants from the New River.

"Even though he will no longer represent the Imperial Valley he will continue to work on the issues — getting funding for the New River," Harrison said.

Hunter said, "We've got a lot of blood, sweat and tears in some of these projects."

As for Knechel's contention that one Southern California border district uniting the Imperial Valley with San Diego would help attract funding here, Harrison said, "That's an opinion. We have a majority of the (California-Mexico) border as it is."

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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