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BLM sets open house to discuss off-highway vehicle grants

June 21, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL

Staff Writer

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, California Desert District scheduled an open house Tuesday to receive public comments on its off-highway vehicle grant applications.

The state's budget cutbacks could affect the grant money given by the California Parks and Recreation, Off Highway Motor Vehicle division.

The OHMV division provides grants to local agencies and works with federal agencies such as the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service to provide off-road recreation in California.

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Division Deputy Director Dave Widell said in a January interview the BLM needs to be weaned from state dollars.

The bureau's El Centro office, which is part of the California Desert District, requested $1.3 million and got just over $1 million last season.

The El Centro office grant applications will be almost identical to last year's with an increased request for environmental conservation money, BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner Neil Hamada said.

A few of the OHMV commissioners voiced concerns with the state giving money to federal agencies during last season's hearings.

The seven-member commission makes the decision on how much money each application will get.

"We're the state. Why should we fund the federal government?" Commissioner Harold Thomas asked.

Commissioner Paul J. Spitler said he is concerned law enforcement problems at the Imperial Sand Dunes will become a black hole of money.

The state and federal government spent well over $2 million to pay for law enforcement at the Imperial Sand Dunes after a 2001 Thanksgiving weekend where less than 40 officers patrolled about 200,000 visitors to the dunes.

That weekend saw an increase in violence, including a fatal shooting, at least two stabbings, a record number of drug and alcohol citations, and an officer being run over by a man in a BMW trying to evade a speeding ticket.

Off-road groups also opposed the California Desert District's grant applications. Most groups recommended funding 50 percent of the grants but the San Diego Off Road Coalition recommended zero funding.

"We felt they have been using more of our money and shutting down more of our recreational opportunity," coalition chairman Jim McGarvie said, referring to environmental closures at the Imperial Sand Dunes and other off-road recreation areas.

OHMV program money comes from off-road vehicle registration fees, fees collected at state off-road recreation areas and off-road vehicle fuel taxes.

BLM spokesman Ira Long said public comment is needed before the grants are finalized. Grants need to be submitted to OHMV by July 15.

The open house will be from 3-8 p.m. at the California Desert District office at 6221 Box Springs Blvd., Riverside. Bureau staff will be available to give more information on the grant applications.

A copy of the grant applications will be available Tuesday at the BLM's El Centro office, 1661 S. 4th St.

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

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