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By Miriam Raftery

August 26, 2015 (Lakeside) - - Residents, environmentalists and medical experts presented strong evidence for why a proposed sand mining project in Lakeside’s El Monte Valley should not be approved.  Opponents of Enviornmine’s proposed 167-acre project spoke out at tonight’s scoping meeting conducted by the county.’s Planning department.  Public comment remains open until September 14th, after which an Environmental Impact Report will be drafted.

Dr. Christy Walker, an emergency room physician, testified about the confirmed presence of Valley Fever (coccidioides immitis) in El Monte Valley; evidenced in the treatment of both people and pets who contracted the potentially lethal illness in the Valley. She indicated that Valley fever does not just affect the lungs but can affect multiple organs. Her concern is that mining that lift layers of sand to dig the 100' deep, 182 acre wide mining pit would release fungal coccidioides spores d into the air, greatly increasing exposure and infection.

Billy Ortiz, naturalist, shared that thousands of children and adults enter the Valley every year to visit local businesses and El Monte Park, adding that if sand mining is allowed here, the potential for Valley Fever-infected sand to be carried out to other regions on these visitors will be increased.

Cary Womack Chambers posted on a Facebook page set up by project opponents (El Monte Nature Preserve) that after the meeting this evening she warned, “If people get Valley Fever, they will have a lot of people suing them for the loss of their health.”

Michael Beck, a principal in the project, has touted it as an environmental reclamation project, claiming the intent is to restore riparian habitat after the project is completed decades from now.

But that argument got a lot weaker tonight, after the Lakeside River Park Conservancy formerly affiliated with Beck announced that last night, its board unanimously passed the following motion regarding the sand mining project:  

“The board of Lakeside’s River Park Conservancy has reviewed the project and believes that it is not consistent with our mission statement. The project will have substantial adverse impacts. As a result of these serious concerns, we cannot support the project. The conservancy will be submitting our substantive comments to the County and making them available to the public.”

Some residents also voiced concerns over well water and ground water.  Crystal Howard with Environmine insisted, “We don’t anticipate impacting anyone’s wells. We don’t anticipate impacting grounding,” adding that the project does impact drinking water, the company will make reparations.