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County's share of off-road recreation grants depends on meeting

January 04, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

The state's Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission will meet Jan. 10 and 11 to decide if and how much money it will give to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's El Centro office and the Imperial County Sheriff's Office.

The commission provides grants to local agencies and works with federal agencies to provide off-road recreation in California.

State Parks' division of Off-Highway Vehicles is recommending about $1 million in grants this year for the BLM El Centro office, said Jerry Johnson, assistant deputy director for the California State Parks' Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division.

Last year the commission gave the BLM El Centro office $939,000, Johnson said.

The commission awarded about $11.2 million last year in grants to the bureau and U.S. Forest Service, according to the OHV. More than 90 percent of California's off-road recreation is on federal lands.

The OHV staff makes recommendations but the final decision on how much money is given is up to the commission.


Some members of the seven-member commission are less than anxious to give the El Centro office more money.

The division of Off-Highway Vehicles has spent more money in the Glamis sand dunes than in any other part of the state, but the problems are getting worse, OHV commissioner Paul Spitler said. There are more people dying in accidents, reckless vehicle use and reckless endangerment than ever at the dunes, Spitler said.

The bureau needs to limit the number of visitors and needs to consider banning alcohol at the dunes. Alcohol and vehicles don't mix, he said.

"It's clear the dunes can't be managed with unlimited users. The BLM needs to step up and say enough is enough," Spitler said. "Absent that, it's like trying to push sand uphill."

He conceded the problems at the Imperial Sand Dunes are not uncommon to off-road vehicle users elsewhere in the state but said the sheer magnitude of the problems is what's unique.

Spitler said the commission could choose to withhold funds from the BLM until the bureau makes a commitment to manage the area responsibly.

Commission chairwoman Daphne Greene said the organization can make recommendations to the BLM and one of those recommendations might be to limit visitors to the Imperial Sand Dunes.

"I think it would be irresponsible to withdrawal support to the BLM, but our grant moneys are not a free ticket," Greene said.

She said a ban on alcohol would be difficult to enforce but the bureau and county could look at ways of making it more difficult to get at the dunes.

"We can't sit back and let a few rogue individuals ruin the dunes for the whole off-road community," Greene said.

The BLM is seeking about $1.3 million in grants this year, BLM spokesman Neil Hamada said.

The Sheriff's Office applied for more than $300,000 in grant money from the OHV to help pay for law enforcement and equipment of off-highway vehicles, sheriff's office analyst Fairelene Taylor said.

The meeting will be at the Hilton Hotel-Ontario Airport in Ontario and is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. both days. The meeting is open to the public. For more information, call (916) 324-4442.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

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