EL CENTRO — During the informational section of the IID meeting, Tuesday, December 3, the selling of almost 2900 acres owned by IID to Terre Firme LLC, a California limited liability company, was discussed.
The property was once part of the 45,000 acres accumulated by the Bass brothers in the late 1990s when they became the Valley’s largest landowner with intents to sell the water tied to the land.
IID bought much of the land and has resold most of the farmland back to farmers, but in later years the water district agreed to not sell more land.
The 2881.05 acres is a checkerboard of property located between Niland and Calipatria in the north county. The parcels are next to Highway 111 and close to the rail line. The interested buyer plans to build a state-of-the-art inland port. CEO of Terre Firme, Iddo Benzeevi, owns another state-of-the-art distribution center in Moreno Valley, Highland Fairview.
During a prepared slideshow, Benzeevi, explained how the East, mainly China, Vietnam, and Japan, is the main supplier of goods to the U.S.A. The two deep ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach, are too congested to create the needed space for a distribution center, according Benzeevi. He said the Valley was set to take advantage with the rail acting as a conveyor built, bringing in shipping containers filled with parts to be assembled and then shipped out through truck and rail to all parts east, Mexico, and Canada.
IID Director Jim Hanks said the district saved those particular parcels adjacent to the rail and Highway 111 solely for that purpose.
Benzeevi was approached by Tim Kelley and Sean Wilcock of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation (IVEDC) to consider the Valley’s many assets for locating a facility here.
Many residents spoke in favor of the land sale. Doug Kline, superintendent of the Calipatria Unified School and acting principal of Grace Smith Elementary School in Niland, rose to testify how a facility such as Benzeevi proposed would lift the lives of the Calipatria and Niland residents who suffer from poverty and few high paying jobs.
If the item, which will return as an action item next meeting, passes, IID will sell the land for $7,373.36 an acre, totaling $21,243,018.18. Currently, the land has nine different tenants all farming the ground. As permits are pulled and other negotiations go forward, the buyer has agreed not to disturb the farming.
Tom DuBois, of IVEDC, said there was a long way to go to “bag this elephant” with the acquisition of private property to fill in the checkerboard parcel ownership by IID.
He acknowledged it would be several years before the project was completed, if the sale went forward.