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New River Committee waiting on tax break for funding

January 17, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — More than $40 million could be given to the non-profit New River Committee here if the U.S. Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service clear $220 million in tax breaks for a group of Bahamas-based off-shore financiers.

The Bahamas financiers, the Honberg Group Inc., operate a Los Angeles office.

According to Luis Estrada, representatives of the financiers will meet with Justice Department officials Monday.

Estrada is founder of the 10-person New River Committee and manager of Calexico's wastewater plant and airport.

Estrada was told about the meeting during a Wednesday phone conversation with Richard Zaragoza of Beck Genesis, a subsidiary of Seattle engineering firm R.W. Beck.

Since last summer, Estrada and Imperial Irrigation District Division 5 Director Rudy Maldonado have talked with Zaragoza almost every week to monitor the progress of negotiations with the financiers. Maldonado is chairman of the committee.


Beck Genesis was paid $150,000 by the Calexico City Council to lobby the Honberg Group last summer.

According to Zaragoza, the financiers have approved giving $40-45 million to the New River Committee but the Calexico committee's potential windfall is lumped into a $220 million being scrutinized by federal officials.

If the New River Committee receives the funds it will move forward with plans to catalog health risks caused by the toxicity of the New River and then pipeline the river underground from the border to Highway 98.

At Wednesday's New River Committee meeting, District 1 County Supervisor Tony Tirado asked Estrada, "Any word on the time? One week? Two weeks?"

Estrada said the committee should get an answer from the financiers by the end of February.

Calexico City Councilman Javier Alatorre asked, "Is there anything we can do to show some support?"

Maldonado said, "Not that we have been told."

A public affairs assistant at the Department of Justice said staffers would look for information on the Bahamas group this morning.

In other business Wednesday, the committee voted unanimously to write a letter to the Border Trade Alliance asking for support for the committee's general goal of improving quality of life along the New River.

Alatorre said, "They mentioned they didn't want to commit to any specific project but had no problem with supporting in concept our plans."

Tirado said he would put the item on the BTA agenda. He is on the non-profit alliance's board of directors.

At the committee's next meeting, directors will hear presentations from county health officials and a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency.

After hearing those presentations, the committee will decide how to properly study health problems that might be caused by the New River.

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

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