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Filner vows to deal with New River pipeline if he's elected

May 25, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — It's been talked about for years but Rep. Bob Filner, D-Chula Vista, told Calexico's New River Committee he will work with state officials to finally deal with the New River once and for all if he is elected to represent the Imperial Valley in November.

Filner is running against Republican Maria Guadalupe Garcia for the right to represent a newly aligned congressional district that is made up of the Imperial Valley and southern portions of San Diego County.

Filner made his comments at a special Saturday meeting of the New River Committee inside Calexico City Hall. Filner told committee members he attended to learn more about the river. After the meeting he went on a short tour of the river with a U.S. Border Patrol agent and city officials.

During the meeting committee member Javier Alatorre told Filner the goal of the committee is basic: "We want to pipe this river."


Committee members think piping the New River from the border to Highway 98 will stop people from using it to float north into the United States from Mexico. The committee members also think enclosing the river will help shield the people who live near the river from deadly diseases in it.

Filner wanted to know if the committee has a proposal or a budgeted plan for the pipelining. He said he had not seen one.

Committee founder Luis Estrada, manager of Calexico's wastewater plant, told Filner, "We do have a proposal."

Last year the Calexico City Council paid $150,000 to Beck Genesis, a division of Seattle-based engineering firm RW Beck, to draft such a proposal.

According to Filner, the New River Committee members did not bring along the document when they met with him in San Diego recently. Estrada said Filner would get a copy.

Once he does, Filner said he would look into how the various government agencies and representatives could work together to get funding for the project.

He told committee members that it is imperative for them to be united in their desire to pipeline the river. He said it would be easier to get funding for the project if it had broad-based support of the community.

Most everyone Filner addressed in City Hall on Saturday supports the pipelining plan but some who are not in that loop have questioned the feasibility of the plan considering the potential for massive problems if there was a flood that caused the New River to expand beyond the capacity of a pipe.

Before Filner arrived at the meeting, committee member Rudy Maldonado, Imperial Irrigation District Division 5 director, acknowledged a good number of Calexicans are frustrated with previous efforts to solve New River problems. They have heard of grandiose plans to deal with it over the last 40 years. None of those plans has panned out.

Maldonado said he wants the New River Committee's efforts to produce results and he said Filner could help.

"Let's start doing something; no more studies," he said.

Calexico City Councilman David Ouzan, the council's New River Committee liaison, said the past was the past and Filner's interest, while important, would not be enough by itself.

"We'll have to continue to fight until we get it done," he said.

Councilman Frank Montoya asked Maldonado, "Where are we with that humanitarian group."

When the City Council agreed to pay Beck Genesis $150,000 to compile a funding document, a representative of Beck Genesis, Richard Zaragoza, told the council that the document could help the city get millions from a specific humanitarian group later identified as the Bahamas-based Honberg Group.

Maldonado told Montoya, "That's still pending but we're not waiting anymore."

Estrada said the committee is looking into getting funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to study the river's effects on the health of residents living near it. He said that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also might have funds available.

Filner talked about his efforts to deal with the Tijuana River. During Filner's time in the House, Congress spent money to build a wastewater facility at the border that treated the sewage filled water of Tijuana River before it reached the U.S. There was a problem, however, with the capacity of the facility that eventually was built.

Filner said, "The problem doubled by the time we built the thing."

Over the past few years Filner has worked on a plan that would bring together the private sector and the public sector to solve the problem.

That plan has not come to fruition but if it does, a private Mexican company would receive assistance from the U.S. government to build a facility that would treat water flowing into the Tijuana River. That company would try to make a profit selling the water.

"Mexico needs the water and we're going to get the treatment. It's a win-win," Filner said.

As for the New River, Filner said, "We need to take your solution (pipelining plan) and get it actualized.

"You've lived with this too long. You're children don't deserve to live with this."

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