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Binational Meeting Seeks Solutions for Environmental Problems

-Editorial

Strategizing how to face the challenges the border community faces Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia and Baja California Senator Alejandra del Carmen Leon Gastelum hosted their 2nd Binational Roundtable Discussion on Air Quality and the New River.

The committee met at the John Steppling Art Gallery at the SDSU Campus in Calexico were representatives from the state of California and Baja California discussed strengthening cooperation on environmental issues impacting the border health of their shared border region.

This was a follow-up meeting from last year that took place in Oct. 2018.

Senador Leon said that last year the committee discussed border infrastructure, climate change, and the expansion of the Calexico West Port of Entry that is needed to reduce border wait time that will help reduce pollution created by the long border wait times.

The Office of California Speaker Anthony Rendon has started a dialogue with Mexico. A representative of the speaker’s office of protocol said that they have worked closely with the Mexican government and developed positive ties with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Cross-water pollution in the Tijuana River Watershed will be the program’s inaugural focus; in future years, they will explore a deep dive into other policy areas, including health, the future work, clean energy, trade, and immigration, among others.

Richard Corey, Executive Officer State Resources Board, spoke about Assembly Bill 617 establishes a new way of improving quality in California communities heavily impacted by air pollution. This is the first-of-its-kind effort involves the California Air Resources Board working with local residents, air districts and others to identify problems, develop solutions and track progress together.

For his part, Matt Dessert from the Imperial County Air Pollution Control Office explained the work of the emissions program plan for the El Centro-Heber-Calexico corridor. The main health objectives of this plan are reducing exposure to toxic air contaminants that contribute to cumulative exposure burdens within selected communities and reduce particulate matter less than 2.5 microns.

In regards to the New Rivet, the New River Improvement Project was created by Assembly Bill 1079, in 2009 by former Assemblyman Manuel Perez. AB 1079 also required the California-Mexico Border Relations Council to develop a strategic plan to guide its implementation.

The New River Improvement Project addresses these problems by recommending the installment of a trash screen just downstream from the Mexico border and a pump-back water system that replaces polluted water in the river channel with treated wastewater from the city’s treatment plant, enabling New River water to be piped for water quality remediation through wetlands and aeration structures north of ‪Calexico.

The New River Improvement Project also envisions a pedestrian and bicycle parkway that would run along the river in the Calexico area and supports the Calexico New River Parkway development. Calexico Assistant City Manager Miguel Figueroa said the construction of the parkway will come soon.

The design of the 1.5-mile parkway project was completed and approved by the California Department of Transportation and the California Natural Resources Agency in 2017. Portions of the funding have been allocated, but it could only be used by obtaining matching funds and completing design, planning and environmental processes.

Former Congressman Bob Filner helped appropriate $3.2 million from Caltrans in the early 2000s, but it required a 20-percent city match. When Assembly Bill 1079 was adopted in 2009, it provided that $800,000 in matching fees for the city from the state Natural Resources Agency, giving them access to the remaining $3.2 million from Caltrans.

The plan for this park is to have a bikeway connect the west side where there are 300 houses that are affected by the river to the Gran Plaza Outlets. The parkway is to be constructed within portions of the New River’s flood plain that passes through the city over a distance of three miles extending from the international border to State Highway 98. Future amenities according to the New River Project Strategic Plan include soccer and baseball fields, as well as public restrooms.

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