As the presentation of the final report assessing the potential impact of a proposed multi-million-dollar recreational project nears, the project’s developer has reached out to Valley officials to appease fears that the project is incompatible with the El Centro naval base it plans to neighbor.
Desert Springs Oasis, a recreational center designed to temporarily house mainly snowbirds interested in motor and water sports, would create a positive economic impact in the Valley, said Ron Preston, founder of the project.
The project has a budget of about $100 million, he said, and enjoys the backing of numerous national and international investors.
But the project has been struggling for years to get the full of support of the community it wishes to belong to. Just last year, the Imperial and El Centro city councils voiced concerns over the potential impact of that resort on Naval Air Facility El Centro, located some three miles away. Furthermore, Valley notables have spoken against the project as well.
Earlier this week, Preston organized a series of meetings with a wide slate of officials, including one with the NAF El Centro commanding officer to address some of the Navy’s concerns, Preston said. In doing so, Preston brought with him Brad Goetsch, a retired Navy captain and former commanding officer of Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada, to speak on behalf of the project.
Officials were interested in seeing the final environmental impact report, said Goetsch, and particularly interested in being sure that lighting and population centers don’t impact their ranges, flight paths and “anything that is going to be changed that would impact their intended future operations.”
During the meetings, they also addressed the perception that the project jeopardizes the efforts to base the Navy’s F35C Joint Strike Fighter squadron.
“And that is simply not true,” he said.
However, Goetsch acknowledges the project causes impacts, he said, but Preston’s goal is to mitigate the impacts “and tell the community that this community needs to diversify and have multiple avenues for growth.”
The easiest answers to minimize any impacts to the base would be to stop all development, Goetsch said, “but that’s not realistic.” The best thing to do, he said, is to manage development.
Supervisor John Renison, one of the supervisors who individually met with Preston and Goetsch, said, “We have to be very open — we have to listen.”
Renison said he is cognizant of the opposition from certain community members, he said, however, “(we) have to be very, very objective and open to both; the pros and cons.”
Furthermore, Renison said, NAF El Centro and the project aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
“I feel the Desert Springs Oasis may be able to coexist,” he said.
When asked about the base’s concerns and whether there was any meeting, Michelle Dee, NAF El Centro public affairs officer, said in a written statement that “the Navy’s concerns with this project remain consistent with the comments submitted during the CEQA process in response to the Draft Environmental Impact Report in July, 2010.”
She added that “the lines of communication between Navy officials and the developers, and the developers’ representatives, have been open and exercised since 2007. The Navy is awaiting the recirculation of the EIR and the developer’s response to the Navy’s comments.”
Preston and Goetsch also met with Lisa Gallinat, co-chairwoman of the Joint Strike Fighter Coalition. However, Gallinat said she attended this meeting as an individual. “It wasn’t so much a joint strike meeting,” she said, “I didn’t approach it quite that way.”
In this meeting, Preston expressed interest in becoming involved in the Joint Strike Fighter effort, Gallinat said. This is a proposal she welcomed “as I welcome anybody,” she said.
When asked if the coalition opposes the project, Gallinat responded the coalition hasn’t discussed the project and it’s not taking a stand on it. The coalition “is not in the business (of) taking sides,” she said.
However, as an individual, she said the project is “beautiful — but the location is far from ideal.”
A final environmental impact report listing the impacts and mitigation efforts is expected in the upcoming months and the decision on whether to approve or deny the project ultimately falls on the Board of Supervisors.
Staff Writer Alejandro Davila can be reached at 760-337-3445 or email@example.com
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