East County residents rally against sand mining project

LAKESIDE, Calif. – A group of East County residents testified at a heated public hearing in Lakeside against a proposed sand mining project.

The group, which included members of the Kumeyaay Nation, scientists and environmentalists, are concerned about a proposal to excavate sand from nearly 480 acres in the El Monte Valley. The sand mining company, El Monte Nature Preserve LLC, proposes digging up to 100 feet into the San Diego River riverbed to harvest roughly 12 million tons of sand a year.

The company presented an environmental impact report on the project at the Lakeside Community Center Tuesday evening.

Several opponents openly testified during the meeting.

Michael Evans-Layng moved with his wife to El Monte Valley. He says the mining project is more than a Lakeside issue.

“Everybody will lose their wells, everybody there is at great risk to their health and then you just have the loss of the natural habitat, it’s one of the most beautiful valleys left in San Diego,” said Evans-Layng.

There is one paved road out of the valley, which is the two-lane El Monte Road leading to El Capitan Water Reservoir.  The road is used by over 200 residents in the town. Locals told FOX 5 over 160 trucks on the road every three minutes every day, five days a week, will create a significant impact on the traffic, especially because four more large projects are planned in the area.

In addition, there are several endangered species in the area, including more than 23 Glossy snakes, Least Bell’s Vireos, California gnatcatchers, golden eagles, bald eagles, and Quino Checkerspot butterflies that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

“This is planned to go on for decades and the disruption to the valley will be total not just for the animal life but also for the people there,” said Evans-Layng.

Members of the Kumeyaay Nation object to the mining because the valley is a historical and spiritual site with numerous artifacts and burial sites.

“There’s going to be some of my people, my relatives, my family stuff that’s going to get lost at the end of this,” said Bobby Wallace with Barona Band of Mission Indians.  “Somebody to come in and is going to start digging it up and tearing it up that is disrespectful to me, and disrespectful to all tribes actually.”

Environmentalists have concerns about the effect of the project on the area’s aquifer. Some opponents are concerned that the sand mine could pose a health risk by disrupting the soil and spreading Valley Fever, a fungal infection.

“That’s a deadly fungus," said Ana Nita with Preserve Our El Monte. “So, with the sand on our winds, the county people downtown might feel that as a very nice breeze but that’s the breath of death for us if the sand mining is going to go in the valley."

Some residents are demanding county supervisor Dianne Jacob ask for the county's Michael Beck to resign due to conflict of interest. Beck has two environmental organizations involved in restoring sand mines at Hanson Pond in Lakeside, Endangered Habitat League and Endangered Habitat Conservancy. He is purchasing land through one of these non-profits with grants, public funds and donations and is using the other to restore land. Beck has partnered with El Monte Nature Preserve to secure the paid contract of the restoration post-sand extraction.