No money yet for New River pipelining

March 12, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

CALEXICO — For more than six months, New River Committee members and city officials have waited to hear if Bahamas-based financiers the Honberg Group would give the committee more than $40 million to pipeline the New River from the Mexican border to Highway 98.

They're still waiting.

In September the committee and city officials were told to expect news from Honberg by November.

In November everyone was told to expect news by the end of January. The holidays were delaying matters, locals were told.

In January they were told to expect news by the end of February. The plan was being inspected by the Department of Justice, according to Honberg officials.


The latest?

Richard Zaragoza of Beck Genesis said Monday, "We're trying to finalize the commitment by the end of the month."

Beck Genesis is a subsidiary of Seattle-based engineering firm R.W. Beck.

Zaragoza is involved because the City Council agreed to pay his firm $150,000 last August to put together a feasibility study of the pipelining project and send that study to the Honberg Group.

Zaragoza told the council the group is looking to fund humanitarian projects. Pipelining the New River was cast as an ideal project because of its notoriety as a befouled waterway.

Cleaning up the New River after 40 years of failed attempts would be a momentous occasion.

Zaragoza has worked for Beck for about a year. He said Friday, "This is the first that we are doing in regards to humanitarian projects."

Some city officials are starting to question whether the $150,000 was well spent.

In the last month, City Councilman Gilbert Grijalva has led the charge in asking for updates on the status of talks with the Honberg Group.

Mayor Pro Tem John Renison said last summer the funding source looked "very, very promising."

While still hopeful, Renison said Friday, "My feeling is we need to bring it to closure."

He doesn't want to impose a deadline on Beck or the Honberg Group but he does want to know "yes or no" in 60 days.

"It's medium rare at this time and it needs to be well done.

"I don't want to put us in the position where the Easter Bunny doesn't come in two weeks," Renison said.

He made those comments after listening in on a conference call that included Zaragoza, Calexico Airport Manager Luis Estrada, Imperial Irrigation District Director Rudy Maldonado and a Honberg rep.

Maldonado, an Imperial Irrigation District director, is the chairman of the New River Committee and Estrada is its founder.

Asked for the latest news after the call, Renison said he was told by the Honberg group that there is "a change of ownership holding it up."

He added: "Everyone is waiting for the dust to settle."

Zaragoza said collateral for the third of three projects fell through.

Estrada and Renison have been told the Honberg Group has set aside $222 million to give to three humanitarian projects. Corporations working with the group will receive tax breaks.

Calexico officials have been told the New River pipelining project has been tentatively approved.

Renison said, "It's a guarantee in a sense because they said that it's one of the best humanitarian projects, ‘We've ever seen.'"

He added: "What I have heard is that there is a press release being prepared in case (the project) gets funded."

Estrada said the committee is not waiting for the group to make its decision.

"We have to continue believing in this project. We're not going to give up at all," he said.

Estrada pointed to the committee's success as a sign that the plan to pipe the river is a good one.

"How did we get more than $300,000 already? There are foundations out there. I have a list of 15 different foundations. The money is there," he said.

And if the millions from the Honberg group doesn't pan out?

"There are other options. We are already working on those options," he said.

Specifically, Estrada noted recent discussions with the Environmental Protection Agency and aides in Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office.

Regarding the initial Honberg pitch of months ago, Estrada said, "It was an easy, fast thing that came to us and we took it and we're hoping it would go through."

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

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles