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Group finds Hunter letter offensive

April 26, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL

Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The last of six public hearings for the Imperial Sand Dunes draft management plan started with U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, attacking environmentalists.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management's draft management plan and the environmental study it was based on have been the subject of criticism from environmentalists, off-roaders and business people. About 700 people attended Thursday night's meeting.

Hunter sent a letter, read by Nathan Colestack, thanking his good friends in the off-road community

"Southern California's growing population is hungry for the outdoors experience, and not every one of them wants to get it by hiking 20 miles through 100- degree heat while nibbling tofu," Hunter's letter states.

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The letter goes on to refer to environmentalists as "enviros."

"It's insulting. Some of the people he represents would not appreciate that comment," Desert Protective Council conservation coordinator Terry Weiner said.

Larry Hogue, of the San Diego and Imperial chapter of the Sierra Club, said Hunter's remarks were shocking and unprofessional.

Hunter's letter was the first comment of the hearing, almost setting a negative tone for the entire evening.

Off-roaders who did not agree with statements made by environmentalists snickered, heckled, coughed and passed

notes.

The hearing monitor issued a few warnings and the crowd calmed down.

Off-road enthusiasts said Hunter's letter gave them a morale boost.

"It was a great letter of support. It was wonderful," American Sand Association spokeswoman Vicki Warren said. "But we continue to draw lines between us and them and I don't know if that helps."

Hunter's letter also states U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California will soon introduce a wilderness bill that will "chain off an unprecedented portion of our state to all but the most vigorous hikers."

Larry Baker, an ASA member from Riverside, said he was injured in a work accident in 1996 and was permanently disabled.

After a couple of years he said he was able to get out of his wheelchair and now can get into a sand buggy. Keeping the dunes open is especially important to him. On the sand he can move around like anyone else.

Environmentalists, off-roaders and business people generally agreed they do not give much credibility to the statistics used in the draft environmental study.

Jim McGarvie, chairman of the San Diego Off Road Coalition, said he disagrees the with BLM considering visitor limits at the dunes. Numbers used to make those assumptions are not based on sound scientific data, he said.

McGarvie said he was happy to see the BLM did not consider the temporary closures as part of the draft plan's assumed management area.

Business people said they disagreed with the numbers used for the socio-economic impact report.

"I wouldn't have a business today if I provided a product like this. The socio-economic assumptions are absolutely false," Funco Motorsports owner Grant George said.

After the meeting, Pat Flanigan of the California Wilderness Coalition said air-quality issues at the sand dunes needs to be addressed and monitored.

Imperial and Yuma counties have high asthma rates and Imperial County doesn't meet air quality standards for airborne dust particles, Flanigan said. Someone needs to monitor that.

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

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