The El Monte Sand Mine and Nature Preserve plan met resistance from more than 100 residents at a Lakeside Community Planning Group meeting Wednesday, June 3.
The plan for mining, according to county project manager Jim Bennett, uses enough water for 236 households but eventually provides endangered species habitat.
The project is the latest plan for a Lakeside river valley that has been both fought over and mostly unused — except by equestrians — because every venture that has been proposed, since at least 1997, has failed.
Those failures have allowed local horse folks to develop a well-used trail network and create related businesses around the 580-acre parcel El Monte wants to develop.
“We are very concerned about those riverbed trails — there are over 100 equestrian-related businesses in Lakeside,” said Diane Carter of the San Diego Trails Alliance. “Many of the boarding facilities back up on the riverbed trails and rely on those trails.”
El Monte Nature Preserve, LLC, with an address in Solana Beach, has filed the latest proposal for the land with the county planning department. The land belonged to the Helix Water District, which transferred the land as part of an August 2014 settlement with El Capitan Golf Course LLC — which has now become the nature preserve LLC.
In 1997, the water district leased a 480-acre property to developers whose plan to build a golf course fell apart in 2005, and the company began looking into sand mining. In 2010, the water district planned to site a wastewater-recycling plant there. Helix also looked at getting into the sand-mining business.
According to its reports, the riverbed is full of high-quality sand — about 15 million cubic yards of which the company now wants to extract using a water-sedimentation process. During the lawsuit, the value of the sand was estimated at $40 million, according to court records.
The plan calls for sand extraction over a period of 15 years, with restoration of habitat as the company finishes with each area. Right now, there are more than a half dozen endangered species in the open area, residents said.
For residents around the property, mostly south of Willow Road and north of El Monte, that means an estimated 255 dump-truck trips a day, according to Bennett. With the proposed sand pit going as much as 100 feet below its current bottom, a threat is presented to the water wells in the area.
“I like my well, I like my septic tank…we like that part of Lakeside where we are not encumbered by water bills,” said Zak Norman, who has lived nearby for more than 20 years.
But even if residents defeat the plan, some project is going to end up in that river bottom, planning-group members and a few residents said in poorly received comments.
“Those are not our trails,” Joan Embry Pillsbury said. “I don’t want to lose what we have in this valley but we may have to make some concessions — we need to get to the table and find a solution to save our valley…. If this one goes down, there will be another and another [project].”
The planning board voted unanimously against the plan — which will continue to come back to the planning group as it evolves.