East County News Service
Photos: Map of proposed project; wildlife photos by Debbie Ekhaml, including raccoons in adjacent Sweetwater National Wildlife Refuge and mule deer in Jamul ecological preserve are among wildlife species that could be negatively impacted
July 13, 2019 (Rancho San Diego) – Significant concerns raised by the community over the proposal for a 10-year sand mining operation at Cottonwood Golf Course have been confirmed with the release of the County of San Diego’s Scoping Letter on the project.
A “Scoping Letter” provides a development applicant the list of reports, studies and other documents needed to be considered for approval. In the case of the Major Use Permit sought by New West Investment for a sand mining operation at the Cottonwood site, the detailed list of County requirements underscores the same concerns expressed by the community’s Stop Cottonwood Sand Mine Committee regarding a long-term mine along the Sweetwater River, most notably in the middle of an established residential neighborhood surrounded by homes, schools and businesses.
Those concerns, detailed at www.stopcottonwoodsandmine.org, include traffic, safety and noise, health hazards, impacts on the environment, and decreased property values.
ECM sent an email to EnviroMINE spokesman Jon Cloud for his reaction to the Scoping Letter but did not receive a response. The developer has previously contended that the sand mine is needed to meet local needs for sand used in road construction and other projects.
Among the Major Project Issues identified by County Planning & Development Services:
- Consistency with the San Diego County General Plan, along with the Valle De Oro Community Plan and Rancho San Diego Specific Plan – As noted in the letter, County “staff cannot move forward with a recommendation of approval until the project is found consistent with all applicable General Plan and community plan policies.”
- Land Use/Community Character Consistency – “The character of the area consists of residential, recreational, civic and open space uses, and the project request is for a sand mining, an extractive use,” the letter indicates. “The Rancho Specific Plan identifies the golf course serving as a buffer area and providing a larger setback to sensitive habitat areas. In order to assess the potential impacts to community character a land use and community character analysis shall be prepared…”
- Major Use Permit Findings – The letter notes the requirement that the location, size, design, and operating characteristics of the proposed use must “be compatible with adjacent uses, residents, buildings, or structures.” Among other things, consideration must be given to “the harmful effect, if any, upon desirable neighborhood character; the generation of traffic and the capacity and physical character of surrounding streets; (and) the suitability of the site for the type and intensity of use or development which is proposed.”
- Biological Resource Constraints – The site contains jurisdictional waters of the State of California and the United States, including protected wetlands, requiring approval from State and Federal resource agencies. “Several federally endangered and/or threatened species have been identified on the project site or within the vicinity of the project,” the letter continues. Given the sensitivity of the area, the letter provides a list of agencies that must provide project approval, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish & Wildlife. “Any impacts proposed within the National Wildlife Refuge would require…an environmental document that addresses both state and federal environmental requirements. Please note that Major Amendment areas in particular can take years to complete and could result in significant delays in the processing of the project.”
- Visual Resources – “Based on an initial review,” the letter additionally notes, “it appears the proposed project may adversely affect visual resources. Willow Glen Drive is designated as a County Scenic Road. Views from scenic vistas, scenic highways and County Scenic Routes, and public recreation areas will need to be analyzed further to determine the extent of any adverse impacts.”
The 115-page Scoping Letter provides additional details on the approval requirements, including the need to address impacts involving noise, air quality, altered hyrdrological conditions, and overall “significant impacts on the environment.” The County estimates approximately $750,000 to $950,000 in fees and deposits to process the project to a hearing date, currently anticipated for the latter part of 2021.
The Sweetwater Authority, the public water agency that manages Loveland and Sweetwater Reservoirs, also sent a letter to the County detailing its concerns about the potential impacts, “…as this project proposes a variety of activities that could significantly increase pollution of the Sweetwater Reservoir.”
Members of the Stop Cottonwood Committee said they were pleased with the County’s detailed and thorough work provided in the Scoping Letter, yet were cautious in their reaction. “
The County has reiterated our significant concerns over the impact to the community,” said Stop Cottonwood Sand Mine Committee Chair Elizabeth Urquhart. “Yet, although the developer has much work to do, we need our neighbors to understand we cannot sit still as we continue to build our opposition. We ask residents to inform their friends and neighbors to sign up at our website. This is a long process and much more work is to be done to inform the community and to ultimately stop this sand mine.”
The Committee continues to seek those who can assist with expertise in any of the areas noted among the Major Project Issues listed above, and/or in the areas of Land Use, Noise, Traffic and Traffic Safety, Air and Water Quality, Archaeological and Cultural Resources, and Biological Resources. Please contact the Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Committee is planning a community meeting for the Fall to keep area residents informed of the process and how to be involved.
The Cottonwood sand mine is proposed by New West Investment and investor Michael Schlesinger, who purchased Cottonwood Golf Course in 2015, four years after the golf course filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The proposal is to mine 4.7 million cubic yards with approximately 3.8 million cubic yards (5.7 million tons) of construction aggregate produced over ten years, in three phases with reclamation planned after each phase. The project application was filed in November 2018.
The Stop Cottonwood Sand Mine Committee held a community meeting in late November 2018, attended by over 200 residents, and within three weeks submitted over 2,100 petition signatures and 70 additional comments to the County of San Diego from area residents opposed to the plan.
County staff also reported over 130 emails or letters received directly from residents. Several hundred have also signed up on the group’s website to receive ongoing communications about actions they can take to reject plans for the sand mine.
The County Scoping Letter referenced above was finalized on May 31, 2019.
See East County Magazine’s prior coverage of this issue: