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Hunter says he'll continue

June 02, 2002

fighting for Imperial Valley

after redistricting in effect

By LAURA MITCHELL

Staff Writer

The Imperial Valley's congressman, Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, traveled to the

county this weekend to say "thank you" to residents of the Valley and talk about issues that he will continue to work on even after redistricting stops him from representing this area.

Hunter served as congressman for Imperial County and parts of San Diego County along the U.S.nMexico border for 20 years but census redistricting cut Hunter out of the Valley. His term as Imperial County's elected representative ends on January 2003.

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Hunter said at a press

conference Friday — his birthday — that he will continue to fight for issues important to the Valley, including Naval Air Facility El Centro.

NAF El Centro has been on the chopping block four times during the base closure process over the last 20 years. There is going to be another base evaluation initiative in 2005 and every base in the nation will be evaluated for closure, Hunter said.

"I'm going to continue to work from my position on the House Armed Services Committee," he said.

NAF El Centro has a lot going for it: the best flying weather in the world, training 365 days a year, 500,000 acres of target ranges close by and the community here loves the military. That's very important to the Navy, Hunter said.

"No matter where my district goes, I'm always going to fight for NAF El Centro," he said.

Hunter also talked about water and his efforts to save the Salton Sea. Outside people want to force Valley farmers to idle farmland because they want the Valley's water, he said.

"This valley has a tradition of a great deal of hard work, of pioneers who, without the benefit of air conditioning or any other modern conveniences, literally carved the most productive agricultural area on earth out of the Imperial Valley desert … now these outside people say you have to become desert again," Hunter said.

Those who have called on the Valley to idle its farmland, have no answer to the Salton Sea's salinity problem, he said.

The basic, most important aspect of saving the Salton Sea is the decreasing the salinity, Hunter said. With or without the water transfer, with or without water conservation, the sea is going to die when its salinity reaches 60,000 parts per million. The salinity level now is at

45,000 ppm, he said.

Hunter said he would like to start immediately pulling saltwater out of the sea, into evaporation ponds along its perimeter. The water pulled out would be replaced by fresher water from an aquifer under the All-American Canal.

"I think those that would think they could enforce fallowing, and who think the only answer to California's water problem is to return Imperial Valley into a desert are going to be surprised by the degree of respect the Bush administration has for water rights," he said.

The Valley has some of the strongest water rights in the United States and that's not something that can simply be taken away by people, Hunter said.

Salton Sea levels would drop under Hunter's plan to make room for fresher water to dilute the salt. Ground cover could be used to keep seabed sediment from becoming airborne and effecting air quality, he said.

Another issue Hunter said he would continue to work on is keeping the desert open for off-road vehicle use.

"We need to keep the land area that is presently open available to the public and we need to ensure the Algodones Dunes are opened, fully opened, by October for off-road enthusiasts," he said.

Hunter said off-road enthusiasts were double-crossed by conservation groups that agreed to closed areas of the desert and now want more areas closed.

Hunter also said he's requested: $14 million for additional law enforcement for the U.S. Bureau of Land

Management; $14 million for development of a countywide interagency emergency

communication system; $20 million for Salton Sea salt water extraction; $10 million for Alamo and New rivers for more of the wetlands projects; $2 million for All-American canal reservoirs; $6 million for development of a telecommunication authority for the Imperial Valley County of Education; $500,000 for a regional cargo airport feasibility study; and $500,000 for a high-speed rail feasibility study.

Hunter hosted an ice cream social Saturday at the California Mid-Winter Fairgrounds to thank his constituents.

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

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