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Thursday, September 20, 2007

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Off-Roaders Mad About Habitat Destruction Mitigation Requirements for New Off-Roader Parks

Off-Road Park Cost Questioned

Mike Cruz, Staff Writer

San Bernardino County Sun 9/2005


From 11/2005 issue: http://www.glamisonline.org/downloads/NewsletterArchive/0511NL.pdf published by the American Sand Association

RIVERSIDE - County officials still are pursuing a controversial plan for an off-road park in Laborde Canyon, even though a recent state audit questioned whether the park would benefit the state’s off-road program.


The California Bureau of State Audits concluded in a report released last month that the Laborde Canyon off-highway vehicle, or OHV, park, to be located in the Badlands south of Beaumont, would come at an enormous cost roughly $27 million and may not provide enough benefit for its high price.

To keep plans on track, Riverside County officials plan to meet with the state auditor and the departments of Fish and Game and Parks and Recreation in the next 30 to 45 days to smooth over issues raised in the report and ensure the park becomes a reality.

"That OHV park is absolutely essential for Southern California,’ said Tom Mullen, interim general manager of the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority.

Mullen said he would rather see more off-road parks to support the sport’s growing numbers than off-roaders using unauthorized open space and habitat conservation areas for riding.

Most of the cost, about $23 million, is needed just to purchase extra acreage to offset the negative impacts of off-roading, provide access to the parcel and cover expanded use, according to the state audit. The other $4 million would create the state vehicle recreation area.

The reason for additional mitigation acreage, at least 3,000 acres, is because the proposed off-road site is in a sensitive area noted in the county’s Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, officials said.

To expand the proposed park from 600 to 1,200 acres as planned, the OHV division would have to purchase mitigation acreage at a 5-to-1 ratio for between $19,000 and $38,000 per acre, according to the audit.

The numbers were negotiated between Fish and Game and Parks and Recreation officials, Mullen said.

Some people in the off-road industry applauded the audit for bringing what they feel are exorbitant costs to light and hope the issues raised will stop the Laborde Canyon proposal as it stands today.

"We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that unfair expenditure, mostly for land that we can’t even use, doesn’t take place," said Roy Denner, president and CEO of the Off-Road Business Association and a close ally of the La Verne based American Sand Association.

The county has an option to purchase the Laborde Canyon site from defense contractor Lockheed Martin and then transfer its ownership to the state. But both the county and state are awaiting environmental reports from Lockheed Martin and site cleanup estimates before making any decisions, officials said.

Lockheed Martin, which once tested rockets on the site, is still conducting tests for contaminants such as perchlorate, dioxane and trichloroethylene, said spokeswoman Gail Rymer.

Testing is not complete, and cleanup processes may not start until 2008, but off-road use is possible much earlier if tests show there is no exposure pathway, Rymer said.

Given the high cost and questions surrounding the Laborde Canyon proposal, the audit was unable to ascertain the overall benefit of purchasing the site.

"We asked the director for any analysis that would demonstrate that the Laborde Canyon project is the best use of the OHV trust fund to provide OHV recreation opportunity,’ the state report stated. "However, none of the documents provided answered our question.’

In response, state officials said OHV money has been allocated for the proposal but not spent. The state is awaiting the environmental report from Lockheed Martin and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control to determine cleanup costs before making any decisions, said spokesman Roy Stearns.

"We can’t really commit to (an off-road) park until we know what contaminants are out there and how they would be dealt with,’ Stearns said, acknowledging questions about whether Laborde Canyon is the best location. "The auditors have raised questions that we must examine.’

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The State’s auditor concluded:

“The division and the department have used money from the OHV trust fund for questionable purposes. Specifically, for three of its recent land acquisition projects, with planned costs totaling $38 million, the division and the department could not provide analyses that showed the value of these purchases to the OHV program. The division has purchased Deer Creek Hills, and Onyx Ranch and Laborde Canyon are still under consideration, and based on the available documentation, these projects do not appear to be the best use of the funds in implementing the OHV program. In each case, project land will be devoted largely to protecting or preserving natural or cultural resources with a relatively small portion or no portion at all available for OHV recreation.” (California State Auditor/Bureau of State Audits
Summary of Report 2004-126 - August 2005 http://www.bsa.ca.gov/reports/summary.php?id=484

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