EL CENTRO — The Imperial County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to submit a letter to the Union Pacific Railroad requesting safe, legal crossings below, at grade, or above, the railroad tracks intersecting the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area also known as “Glamis” during Tuesday’s board meeting.
Glamis is the largest mass of sand dunes in the State of California making it a premiere location for off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts. In fact, the Glamis receives more than 800,000 visitors on an annual basis.
The Union Pacific Railroad’s tracks transect the dunes for more than 16 miles, separating the dune buggy open area from additional camping area and designated Bureau of Land Management routes to the east of the tracks. All access points along the 16-mile stretch have been closed by the railroad, restricting convenient, safe access to either side of the tracks. Closure of these access points has pushed desert enthusiasts to resort to unsafe methods of travel from the sand dune areas to the camping and trail areas by using either Highway 78 or driving over the tracks.
The letter highlights the railroad limiting access to either side of the tracks, not only poses an additional danger for the enthusiasts, but diminishes the recreational experience that the users want from their visit to the Glamis area. The restrictions discourage or deter individuals from vacationing at the dunes, adding a negative impact on the county’s economy. These visitors contribute greatly to the Valley’s economy by purchasing fuel, food, supplies, parts, services, and lodging.
The issue was brought to the supervisors during public comments on October 11 by Lance Ricota, a store manager located out by Glamis. Ricota urged the board to address the matter and submit a letter to Union Pacific, seeking an immediate solution. Ricota recalled a fatal accident in 2007 where three kids were killed as a result of attempting to cross from west to east without designated crossings.
“Since the accident, Union Pacific surveyed the area in anticipation of installing parallel tracks and closing them to the public without consulting any local, state or federal agencies or officials or doing a safety environmental or economic impact investigation or report, leaving no law enforcement crossings,” said Ricotta.
“We need a strong letter demanding that Union Pacific replace the crossings they took out,” said Ricotta. “Everybody needs the access that they used to have.”
On October 4, the City of Brawley also submitted a letter to Union Pacific Director of Public Affairs, Lupe Valdez, urging the railroad to provide prompt solutions.