Photos by Chris Stone
On a sunny holiday weekend where San Diego beaches are packed, “the ugliest state park” in California — as one Sacramento reporter put it — is nearly vacant but for some horseback riders and a few people strolling the beach.
The snark was about the park’s inability to attract people — to “be attractive.”But Border Field State Park is on the verge of a renaissance, what Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina calls “the most beautiful open space in all of Southern California.”
Thanks to the new state budget and federal homeland security funds, an often-closed and flooded road to the border park will be repaired, giving people access to the most untouched natural beach in the region.
“Nowhere else in San Diego County do you have a beach experience like this,” said Chris Peregrin, an environmental scientist at the park helping lead a Friday morning media tour of the park and Tijuana River Valley, whose sediments, tires and plastic have long been an ecological disaster.
For 10 years, retention ponds have helped capture waste from the Tijuana region. But new state money aims to allow the state agency CalRecycle to work with Baja California authorities to recycle hundreds of thousands of tires on the Mexico side of the border before they clog the valley on the U.S. side.
Dedina, a former surfing columnist and environmental activist, squeaked into office last year after a tight election, and has lobbied the office of Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins for help on the longtime headache of Tijuana waste and pollution.“It’s going to take CalRecycle to actually commit to making it happen as soon as possible,” Dedina told Times of San Diego. “We want to avoid the bureaucracy and research and studies. We know what to do.”
He said if the state waits for the next El Niño weather event, possibly this year, “we will be inundated with literally tens of thousands of tires in the river,” which he said would cost taxpayers “millions and millions of dollars” to clean up.
Part of recent legislation is meant to “incentivize” tire recycling in Tijuana, Dedina said. “The estimate is a million tires stockpiled in Tijuana right now,” including many used to build shanty town structures.
Nearly $700,000 in state money, meanwhile, will go toward work this year on making the access road to Border Field State Park usable year-round. Future funding also is expected to repair the road in 2016. The state Legislature also included budget language to use part of a $5.7 million federal grant to restore and promote access to Border Field State Park.
“This sum will go toward preliminary plans and drawings, and the beginning phases of [road] construction,” said a statement by Atkins’ office.
CalRecycle, taking advantage of tire-recycling fees, has spent more than $4 million to cart off 80,000 pounds of tires and solid waste from the California side of the border. But no money has gone to solving the problem on the Mexican side.
“In addressing the sediment and trash pollution in the Tijuana River Valley, we take a three-pronged approach,” Pelegrin said.
“The first prong is to partner with Mexico. We try to address the issue upstream by implementing projects right at the source.”
Pelegrin said new state budget money would help the park system partner with Mexico more efficiently.
“The second prong is to trap the pollution as it’s directly coming into the United States,” he said. “The Goat Canyon Sediment Basin is an excellent example of this. It captures the pollution just as it is crossing the border, prior to going into the sensitive habitat in the Tijuana Estuary.
“The third prong is to restore the estuary because we believe a healthy estuary is better equipped to deal with higher levels of pollution.”
Local groups have led support to the improvements, Dedina said, adding, “Toni Atkins made a commitment to open this park up and thanks to her work, we’ll do it.”
“We have a huge population of bottlenosed dolphins here and gray whales cruise by here. It’s really a remarkable place. We want everyone to be able to access it and enjoy it.”
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