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County gets $500,000 for law enforcement at dunes

January 12, 2002

for san dune enfocement

By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

ONTARIO — Imperial County Sheriff Harold Carter made out like a bandit at a California Off Highway Motor Vehicle grant hearing here Friday.

The Sheriff's Office applied for a grant for $242,400 for law enforcement at the Imperial Sand Dunes for 2001-2002.

The sheriff's award contrasts with a U.S. Bureau of Land Management, El Centro office request for $1.3 million to manage and provide law enforcement at the dunes. The commission asked the bureau to address additional topics in its application and come back to the next commission meeting Feb. 12 and 13 in Sacramento.

OHMV commissioners were impressed with statements by Carter, county supervisors Gary Wyatt and Wally Leimgruber, Bob Ham of the Coalition of Labor and Business and the public, and unanimously awarded the county $500,000.

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During his presentation to the commission, Carter said he really needs $500,000 to cover overtime for his deputies and deputies from other counties to patrol the dunes. That amount does not include additional money for vehicles and other costs to the county such as court costs, District Attorney's office costs and the cost to house prisoners in jail, he said.

The county has a population of about 142,000 people and when another 190,000 move in it taxes the system, Carter said.

"Carter said he needs $500,000 to get this situation under control. We urge the commission to grant the sheriff $500,000 and not to give the BLM anything," San Diego Off Road Coalition chairman Jim McGarvie said.

The American Sand Association, the Off Road Business Association, the California League of Off Road Voters and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility were among members of the public who also supported the sheriff's grant request.

Commissioner Marge Sutton said she was impressed with the number of people who spoke on behalf of the Sheriff's Office and the importance of having law enforcement personnel in charge of law enforcement operations at the dunes.

The commission also approved an additional grant for the Sheriff's Office for $84,150 for equipment.

The commissioners wanted specifically to see Carter as the lead law enforcement official.

Greg Thomsen, field manager of the BLM's El Centro office, said the integrated incident command team that coordinated law enforcement for the New Year's holiday weekend worked well, but he agreed having Carter as the lead law enforcement officer at the dunes would be a good transition from the incident team.

The incident team cost approximately $500,000.

In an earlier interview, Commissioner Paul J. Spitler said he's concerned the law enforcement problems at the sand dunes will become a black hole of money.

"We're the state. Why should we fund the federal government?" Commissioner Harold Thomas asked, referring to the bureau's grant request.

Mark Harms, legal committee chairman of the American Sand Association, said the association supports the bureau's grant request but on the condition that a public safety coordinator, who answers to the bureau's state director, be appointed.

The association also wants to see the bureau show how it uses grant funds, ensure funds are used to improve and benefit, not dismantle, OHMV activities and set up volunteer programs including public safety programs.

Commission chairwoman Daphne C. Greene said she would like to see the bureau address five items when it

comes back in February:

· public safety and outreach, including a plan for using the established volunteer sand dune community;

· banning alcohol at the dunes, and if it's feasible to do so;

· limiting visitors to the dunes. Greene stressed she does not want to see a plan put in place that is not enforceable;

· solutions to problems at Competition Hill, where law enforcement has difficulty controlling the crowd;

· solutions to problems at the sand drags, where large crowds gather to watch dune buggies informally race each other.

Although much of the discussion Friday concerned problems at the Imperial Sand Dunes over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, Thomsen said the scrutiny the bureau faced at the meeting happens at every grant request hearing.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or lauramitchell9@yahoo.com

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