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Dunes meeting draws full house

April 10, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL
  • Terry Weiner speaks to panel members. KEVIN MARTY PHOTO
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Staff Writer

Conservationists and off-road enthusiasts both love the desert, what they disagree on is how the Imperial Sand Dunes should be used.

Almost 100 people attended a meeting Tuesday night in the El Centro City Council chambers, the first of six in the region on a draft management plan for the dunes to voice their opinions on desert use. The debate over the dunes can get so heated a bomb-sniffing dog was part of the meeting's security team.

Representatives from both sides of the issue agree on one thing: they are unhappy with the four alternatives proposed in the draft plan by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the dunes.

The four management plan alternatives are:

· no action, keeping the 1987 management plan;

· a plan that emphasizes protecting resources such as threatened and endangered species;

· a plan that emphasizes off-road vehicle opportunities;

· a combination of off-road and resource protection (the BLM's preferred plan).

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Representatives from conservation organizations said they are upset none of the alternatives consider a settlement that was the result of a lawsuit by three environmental groups.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued the BLM in March 2000 to force it to close portions of the sand dunes to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

Nick Ervin, president of the Desert Protective Council, said he thinks the BLM has a bias toward off-road recreation at the dunes.

Desert Protective Council conservation coordinator Terry Weiner said the Imperial Sand Dunes is a "national natural landmark" that needs to be protected. The main problem with the preferred alternative is the BLM has not completed this year's surveys of plants and animals in the sand dunes, Weiner said.

"How can we do adaptive management if we don't know what we are adapting it to?" she asked.

Vendors who sell at the Imperial Sand Dunes are upset with the BLM's preferred plan because it proposes to limit the number of visitors to the dunes.

Lynn Howard, owner of Pair-A-Dice grill off Interstate 8 and Gordons Well Road in the south dunes, said plants and animals in the dunes survived Gen. George S. Patton in the 1940s and dune buggies since the 1950s.

Other vendors, such as Marie Pierce of Sweet Marie's at Highway 78 and Gecko Road in the north dunes, are upset because the plan proposes to limit vending to weekends.

Without vendors, dune users would not be able to get parts or vehicles fixed in the dunes, Pierce said.

The BLM is required by the federal government to provide for the health and safety of visitors to the sand dunes. It cannot do that by denying vendor services, she said.

Amadis Lugo of Brawley said his vending business will lose money with the new management plan.

"I thought I could provide a service seven days a week and now, after a $75,000 investment, you kick me out," Lugo said.

El Centro resident Bob Ham said one of the flaws in the plan is a ban on alcohol outside camping areas. It's a federal regulation that won't be enforceable by the county sheriff, Ham said. The local sheriff should be involved in the decision.

American Sand Association spokeswoman Vicki Warren said there are many discrepancies between the draft environmental study and the management plan draft.

A presentation slide the BLM used at Tuesday's meeting did not include Oldsmobile Hill as part of a curfew imposed at popular hills, although it is listed as part of the curfew in the draft management plan, Warren said.

She said there are discrepancies throughout the draft environmental study.

"We found three different figures for the number of people currently using the dunes. These are very specific things," Warren said. "Until we get some points clarified, what are we arguing for?"

The dunes are more than an environmental resource; they are also an important family resource, she said.

Warren, who has two teen-agers, said families who frequent the sand dunes find it's a way to relate to teens who usually don't want to have much to do with their parents.

"This fight we've been involved in has been a good bond. My 16-year-old is proud of me," she said. "He proudly tells people, ‘My mom's Vicki Warren.' "

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

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