Supes Allocate $1.2 Million in Community Funding from Solar Industry Revenue

Slab City resident Andra DeCotta talks about the importance and need for garbage disposal and portable-a-potties services throughout Slab City.

EL CENTRO – During Tuesday’s board meeting, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve funding recommendations from the Community Benefit Advisory Committee for the Imperial County Community Benefit Program and disburse over $1.2 million to benefit various needs throughout the county.

The Community Benefit Advisory Committee (CBAC) was established in 2012 by the supervisors to develop recommendations for the board’s consideration regarding the use of funds currently being generated under the Community Benefit Program from solar projects. Funds collected are intended for enhancing wildlife and habitat, economic development and community service categories.

To date, the county has received revenue of $4.2 million from the solar industry, of which $2 million would be disbursed in 2016, $1 million in 2017 and $500,000 each following year. On March 22, the board authorized the release of the application and guidelines for the Imperial County Community Benefit Program and agreed to utilize only half and conserve $1 million for future investments. However, after receiving numerous applications the board agreed to increase the amount to $1.2 million.

Since that time, the CBAC received a total of 35 applications totaling over $4 million. After reviewing the requests and prioritizing the needs, CBAC recommended the board partially or fully fund 24 of the 35 applications.

The board voted and agreed to fully fund 10 of the 24 suggested projects which included the California Waterfowl Association, Niland Sanitation District, Ballington Academy, WomanHaven, Catholic Charities Dioceses of San Diego, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo.

Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego received the majority of the funds totaling $271,500, after submitting five requests of which four were fully funded in the amount of $221,500, to increase the number of senior meals from four to five times per week. Other services provided through funds include food, supplies, off-site staff support expenditures for the homeless program, and House of Hope as well as operating costs of the Food Resource Center. Additionally, Catholic Charities received $50,000 for the demolition, construction, and furbishing of a proposed new shelter.

Originally, supervisors agreed to partially approve three requests received from the Slab City Community Group, Winterhaven County Water District and the Palo Verde County Water District. However, after discussions and presentations from area representatives, they agreed to fully fund the three projects.

The Slab City Community Group submitted a requested for $492,016 for the acquisition of the land it sits upon, garbage dumpsters and port-a-potties.

Slab City resident Andra DeCotta expressed her concerns with possible health, sanitary and environmental issues in the near future due to the lack of adequate garbage disposal and the need of port-a-potties.

“Our community is in dire need of garbage dumpsters to dispose of trash properly and port-a-potties throughout our entire village so that everyone can have access,” she said.

Initially, the board recommended only $20,000 be granted to Slab City, however, subsequent to hearing the needs and costs associated with the community, they agreed to allocate $42,000 for the dumpsters and port-a-potties only.

The Winterhaven Water District requested $185,000 for engineering, design, permitting and environmental documents needed to replace the aboveground portion of the two-mile line that pumps sewage from Winterhaven to the Yuma water treatment plant. While the committee recommended $37,500 be awarded, the board voted to agree to the full amount.

Winterhaven Water District Manager Rick Miller expressed his concerns to the board about replacing the pipes twice in the last two years and stressed the urgency of resolving the issue on a timely basis.

“We need to replace these pipes quickly to prevent possible accidents in the near future” said Miller.

The Palo Verde Water District requested $100,000 for pre-engineering design and services for a water tank reconstruction. The committee recommended $37,500 be awarded, however, the board awarded the full amount after Ron Woods, chairman of the Palo Verde Water District, said the recommended amount would not be sufficient to move forward with the project and the group would have to seek additional funding from other sources.

“What is recommended here in funding money is way, way less than what was requested,” said Woods. “I’m concerned about this, because currently the community is being served with water-wells and I understand water-wells are failing. One has completely failed and one is not doing very well, so we really have a dilemma with water. Since October of last year, the community has had to boil the water.”

Furthermore, the committee recommended allocating $200,000 to fully fund the expansion of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum for the Imperial Unified School District in the amount of $70,000 and partially fund phase three of the Geology/National History/Geo-Thermal Energy exhibit at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum in the amount $130,000, contingent upon the museum raise the balance of $140,000. These items were tabled and will be discussed at a future date.

The remaining nine requests received from the city of Holtville, Heber Public Utility District, Salton Community Services, Neighborhood House of Calexico, city of Calipatria, Niland Chamber of Commerce, Bombay Beach Community Services District, Imperial Valley Burn Institute, Imperial Valley College, and the Foundation California Waterfowl Association were partially funded as recommended by the advisory committee.