Riverside County supervisors Tuesday advanced the process of creating a special tax district around the north end of the Salton Sea to raise funds for restoration of the dying lake.
“We don’t have much time. We really need to push this agenda as much as we can,” said Supervisor V. Manuel Perez. “This is an economic tool to raise the dollars necessary to revitalize the Salton Sea. More work needs to be done, but there is good work that has been done.”
The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to issue a declaration in favor of forming the “Salton Sea Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District.” The action signaled the county’s intent, but further steps will be necessary before the EIFD can be established.
“The lake is drying up. It’s dying,” Supervisor Marion Ashley said. “There’s dust in the air, and it’s a severe problem. There’s a real health issue here. Forget the economic development part of this. We need to fix it.”
Perez, whose Fourth District encompasses the Salton Sea’s north side, has been advocating bond measures to pay for projects aimed at preserving and fortifying what’s left of the receding 360-square-mile lake, the bulk of which lies in neighboring Imperial County. The Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District concept stems from Perez’s “North Lake Vision” proposal released in January.
EIFDs were authorized under Senate Bill 628 in 2014 and permit bond sales to finance construction of private and public projects.
The estimated cost of shoring up the north end of the lake is $350 million, according to the Executive Office.
The board’s vote establishes a public financing authority, which governs an EIFD. Perez, Supervisors Marion Ashley and Chuck Washington, along with Coachella Valley residents Kari Middleton Hendrix and Pedro Rincon, will serve as founding members of the authority.
Ashley will leave office at the end of December, creating a vacancy that would likely have to be filled with one of the incoming supervisors, depending on who’s elected Nov. 6.
With the authority now in place, work can begin on an infrastructure financing plan that will have to be approved by 55 percent of impacted property owners, according to the Executive Office.
The proposed EIFD would be fixed between the Imperial County line to the south and the boundaries of Coachella and Indio to the north, as well as west to the city limit of La Quinta and roughly 40 miles east of state Route 111. Torres-Martinez tribal land would be exempt.
An EIFD relies on “tax increment” to pay off the bonds issued in support of it. Tax increment is generated by projects within specified locations that increase property values.
A public hearing on the proposed EIFD has tentatively been set for June 11 at 10 a.m. in Mecca, at the North Shore & Yacht Club, 91155 Sea View Drive.
According to the Executive Office, the Salton Sea Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District would ensure funding for an earthen dam to control water loss from the north end of the lake.
Documents posted to the board’s agenda noted that sorting out what strategies to employ for preservation of the Salton Sea has been a two-decade process lacking results.
“The state has used … monies to produce more studies and plans for restoration, yet nothing has been decided,” according to an EO statement.
Officials pointed out that $25 million from Proposition 50 in 2006 was expended on research but no game plan for saving the Sea. Similarly, $400 million from Proposition 84 in 2014 was earmarked for projects to mitigate environmental damage from the shrinking body of water, but there was nothing proactive done, according to the Executive Office.
Proposition 66, the $4 billion water bond measure approved by voters in June, set aside $200 million for Sea projects, and another $200 million could come from Proposition 3, if it’s approved on Nov. 6, officials said. However, if the state continues to tarry without applying funds to a fix, evaporation will continue, exposing more lakebed and raising public health risks, according to the county.
In September 2012, Ashley called for the state to “step aside” and allow the regionally managed Salton Sea Authority to oversee restoration plans.
The supervisor was frustrated by inaction that had permitted the Sea to erode to the point of eutrophication, killing off animal and plant life because of extreme salinity, which in turn created conditions for a sulphuric stench that wafted eastward across Riverside County into the Los Angeles Basin.
Water reclamation by local agencies and Mexico, plus the loss of Colorado River supplies that originally fed the Salton Sea, have caused water levels to drop and salinity to spike.
For 15 years, the Coachella Valley Water District and the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to replenish some of the water drawn out of the Sea in order to limit lakebed exposure, but that mitigation effort ended on Jan. 1, leaving the future ecology of the area in doubt.
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