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Lawlessness at the dunes: BLM needs to get its message out

March 15, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is going to have to find more ways to get the word out that lawlessness in the Imperial Sand Dunes will not be tolerated, state officials said.

State Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Deputy Director Dave Widell said he is pleased with the BLM's increased law enforcement presence but he doesn't think the storm has passed.

The BLM was under fire after a chaotic Thanksgiving holiday weekend where a man was killed in a shooting, a ranger was run over and a record number of citations were issued as about 40 law enforcement officers tried to keep control of 190,000 dunes visitors.

The commission allocates state money to local agencies and works with federal agencies such as BLM and the U.S. Forest Service to provide off-road recreation in California.

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Widell said the Imperial Sand Dunes has gotten a lot of negative media attention this season and he wanted to be sure the BLM was doing everything it could to invite and inform the press of changes and additional law enforcement.

Keith Rosewitz of the American Sand Association said his organization agrees with Widell's concerns and has been working to publish and distribute more than 20,000 newsletters to get out the "no tolerance" message.

Widell said state public safety education grant money might be available to turn 20,000 newsletters into 500,000 newsletters.

In a January commission meeting, the BLM's El Centro field office's request for $1.3 million was turned away until the bureau came up with better solutions to public safety and law enforcement problems.

At that meeting, Imperial County Sheriff Harold Carter got $500,000 in grant money for the county, twice what he originally asked for.

The commissioners said they wanted to see the Sheriff's Office play a bigger role in law enforcement at the dunes.

The BLM's El Centro office finally received just over $1 million in grant money in February.

A draft of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area management plan is due out at the end of this month, said Mark Connelley, BLM off-highway motor vehicle manager.

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

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