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$300,000 raised by New River Committee to pipeline rancid waterway

April 29, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

CALEXICO — The "New River Public Health Protection Funding Document" has brought in double the $150,000 spent to produce it, according to Richard Zaragoza of Beck Genesis, a subsidiary of Seattle-based RW Beck.

Zaragoza said the non-profit New River Committee has successfully solicited more than $300,000 in donations from charitable institutions using his company's funding document. Committee founder Luis Estrada has said those numbers are accurate.

The City Council paid Beck Genesis $150,000 last year to draw up the document describing a plan to pipeline the New River from the border to Highway 98 and how that plan could be financed.


While there was no guarantee the city would receive anything other than that document for its investment, City Council members said they thought they had to try to do something about the foul conditions of the New River after decades of bluster in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., produced nothing.

When Zaragoza was selling Beck Genesis' services preceding the council's vote last year, he said there were many charitable foundations that might donate millions to help clean the river.

In addition, Zaragoza told the council members about a group of Bahamas-based bankers called the Honberg Group that might be able to help as well. Zaragoza made a similar pitch to the Heber Public Utility District before its board agreed to pay $25,000 to Beck Genesis to draw up a funding document addressing Heber's needs.

After the Calexico City Council voted to pay Beck Genesis the $150,000, Estrada turned his 10-person committee into a non-profit organization to accept donations. So far the committee has brought in more than $300,000.

In the near future Estrada and members of the committee, including former Calexico City Councilman Javier Alatorre, Imperial Irrigation District Director Rudy Maldonado and county Supervisor Tony Tirado, hope to see even more donations come in, specifically a $40 million grant.

Zaragoza said R.W. Beck and the Honberg Group are still trying to get the New River Committee that grant.

Zaragoza said Friday that members of the Honberg Group traveled to London last week looking for a $25 million line of credit that would allow the group to help fund the pipelining project or the "New River Public Health Protection Project," as Zaragosa calls it.

For almost a year, Zaragoza or members of the Honberg Group have told Calexico's city officials and New River Committee members all manner of reasons the Honberg Group is close to funding the New River Committee's project.

In March the story was "there is a change of ownership holding things up," according to Mayor John Renison.

In February the story was Honberg Group representatives were meeting with the Department of Justice.

In January the holiday season delayed negotiations, according to Zaragoza.

Before the holidays, officials were told to expect confirmation from the Honberg Group almost each week.

Asked if he was disappointed that it has taken so long to secure a donation from the Honberg Group, Zaragoza said, "I don't think anyone expected it would take this long."

He said the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 hindered matters.

Speaking of which, measures enacted by the Internal Revenue Service in this post-Sept. 11 climate will affect a money transfer from the Honberg Group if it occurs.

Zaragoza said all monies coming from an overseas outfit such as the Honberg Group have to be checked by the "Overseas Federal Foreign Currency Office" to ensure "this is not drug money or laundered money."

Zaragoza thinks the added security measures are "great."

Asked for the reason behind the latest delay, Zaragoza said the Honberg Group needs a multi-million dollar letter of credit as collateral before it will release funds.

The city of Calexico or the committee wouldn't have to come up with the collateral, he said. The $25 million or so would have to come from a charitable organization or foundation.

"The bankers (Honberg Group) are talking to foundations for the New River project," he said.

A good number of people in the Imperial Valley have said they don't believe the project will ever be funded by the Honberg Group. Zaragoza hopes to prove those people wrong.

"The bankers said they will fund this project," he said.

As for why people don't believe that, he paused and said, "A lot of people don't like hearing that Calexico is going to have a successful project."

Zaragoza, for one, does.

"I commend Calexico for taking the risk to get something done. The document has been accepted," he said.

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

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