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Dunes plan hurts businesses, BLM told

April 19, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL

Staff Writer

BRAWLEY — The debate over the Imperial Sand Dunes used to be between conservationists and off-roaders, but lately businesses are getting involved because some realize they have a lot to lose.

Business owners, chamber of commerce representatives and city officials concerned with economic development were among those who spoke to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials Thursday night at a public hearing in Brawley on the draft management plan for the Imperial Sand Dunes.

The BLM's preferred plan proposes to use "triggers" that would limit the number of visitors to the dunes and trigger reactions based on that number.

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Neil Hamada, BLM dunes manager, said the draft plan calls for a trigger if more than 55,403 people visit the dunes for 37 days (15 percent) of the off-roading season. If that happens, the BLM's options include looking at establishing a reservation system at the dunes.

If more than 55,403 people visit the dunes for 49 days (20 percent) of the season, or if visitors exceed 15 percent for two years in a row, the BLM will set up a reservation system and limit the number of visitors in the dunes, Hamada said.

The 55,403 figure includes holiday weekends, even though the BLM knows that number will be exceeded on big holidays, he said. But the number is exceeded about 22 days per year, 15 fewer than the first trigger point of 37 days.

Hamada said the BLM acknowledges there is no trigger reset listed in the draft but it will be addressed in the final environmental study and management plan.

Brawley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Nicole Gillis said she disagrees with the socioeconomic data in the environmental study.

"The study states there will be no adverse economic impact (to limiting visitors). I disagree. The plan will have a negative impact on local businesses," Gillis said.

Angie Riven, assistant manager at Vons in Brawley, said store management estimates the store has about $3.5 million in sales from visitors to the dunes. The increased sales means an increase in employment of about 25,000 man hours, Riven said.

Westmorland City Councilman John Makin said the Imperial County League of Cities is against any needless loss of jobs in a county that historically had one of the highest unemployment rates in the state and the lowest per capita income.

Preston J. Arrow-Weed of Winterhaven, a member of the Quechan Indian tribe, said the BLM has a responsibility as stewards of the land.

"Those little creatures cannot speak for themselves," Arrow-Weed said.

He warned there will be a consequence to people's actions at the dunes.

"When they are all gone, your fun will be gone, too," he said.

Helena Quintana, a member of the Green Party's Imperial County council, said she is in favor of closing some areas of the dunes to protect the environment. Quintana also said she does not want to pay extra taxes to support more law enforcement at the dunes. She thinks the people who use it should pay.

Chuck Mobley of Brawley took issue with curfews that would be imposed at particular places in the dunes by the draft plan. A curfew study done by the Justice Policy Institute in 1998 concluded curfews do not curb rowdy or unruly behavior, Mobley said.

Brawley native Don Lambe said he has been visiting the dunes for 57 years, starting when he and high school friend Otis Wood rode out there in a customized Model-A. Lambe praised the BLM for many of the positive changes such as extra law enforcement, but he said more and more people will come to the dunes.

He asked the BLM not to let a few "bad apples" stop the important family recreation there.

After the meeting, Lambe said he did not understand why people want to save Peirson's milk vetch in the dunes.

"The cattlemen tried to get rid of that weed because the cows would eat it and go crazy," he said. "That's why it's called ‘loco weed'."

The hearing Thursday night in the Brawley City Council chambers was the fourth of six public hearings scheduled by the BLM. The next hearing will be Tuesday at the Yuma Civic and Convention Center and the final hearing will be Thursday in San Diego.

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

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