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Calexico Takes Historic Steps Toward Real New River Progress

CALEXICO — Another pair of historic firsts in the decades-long saga to clean up the foul waters of the New River took place this week when the city hired a manager for its river improvement project and moved forward on a funding agreement that will ultimately start the work.

Jose L. Angel was hired by the city of Calexico to head the construction of the three technical components of the New River Improvement Project. He is the retired executive director of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Region 7, Colorado River Basin. | COURTESY PHOTO

The Calexico City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday evening, Nov. 18, to approve the combined but separate actions of drawing up a resolution that will allow the city manager and staff in the next few weeks to finalize an agreement with the state Department of Water Resources for the $28 million already allocated by the state for the project.

The decision also allowed for the execution of a contract with consultant Jose Angel to serve as project manager, a move that brought the city a seasoned professional well-acquainted with all matters pertaining to the New River.

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The decisions were significant, Calexico City Manager Miguel Figueroa said, because they will allow the city to begin actual construction work in the first half of 2021 on the long-awaited three technical components and Calexico-centric elements of the overall New River Strategic Plan, also known as the Calexico “reach.”

“What are the next steps? We have a very ambitious timeline here for which we want the funding agreement to be completed by Dec. 31,” Figueroa told the council before the vote was called.

“How so? Because that will give us 2021 to move forward in implementing the processes to get construction going on the infrastructure (projects) here, a few feet from us, south of the Second Street bridge,” Figueroa emphasized those last few words by looking toward the south while speaking from council chambers.

Those three technical components of the improvement project include an automated trash-screen diversion structure south of the Second Street bridge where the river crosses the international border, the encasement of the river from north of the bridge to where the river reaches the All-American Canal, and a pumpback system/force main that will tie into the city’s wastewater treatment plant, clean a portion of the river water and provide for a “freshwater” stream along the river basin in the area.

For the project, Calexico was pledged $18 million from the state’s 2020-2021 general fund and another $10 million from the 2018 Proposition 68 water bond.

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Now, Figueroa said before the meeting Nov. 18, the city is ready to collect that money as part of a “simultaneous” “reimbursement” funding agreement with DWR that will see the city pay for the New River work first and be paid back by the agency almost instantly.

Meanwhile, the city has hired Angel, who is retired but was formerly the executive director of the state Regional Water Quality Control Board, Region 7, Colorado River Basin.

Angel has worked with Figueroa and other Calexico officials on New River issues for many years.

Miguel Figueroa, Calexico City Manager | FILE PHOTO

“Given the daunting task of managing the project, making sure that the proper individuals are on the team, it is also requested that Mr. Jose Angel … be designated as the project manager to work in tandem with myself, the city manager, in carrying out the opportunity that the Imperial Irrigation District, the county of Imperial, Cal (Environmental Protection Agency), the Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia have placed on us, the trust to be the lead agency and carry this project forward,” Figueroa said during the meeting in stressing the importance of Angel.

Angel, who was not at the meeting Nov. 18, will be a contracted independent consultant paid at a rate of $120 an hour, according to information in the meeting agenda.

There is no set amount placed on Angel’s contract now, but he will be paid through the state allocation. Figueroa explained that in the cost of each of the three technical components of the improvement project, up to 10 percent can be set aside for administrative fees such as project management.

In a previous report, Figueroa explained the breakdown of costs, which include 30 percent contingencies to deal with costs overruns or changes along the way. The trash screen will cost $7.23 million; the pumpback system, $5.37 million; and the encasement, $14.9 million.

Following the execution of the funding agreement, next steps in the improvement project are securing regulatory permits from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to commence work.

A close up of the grate at the New River that stops some of the trash but does little to stem the flow of raw sewage is shown right at the border. | CORISSA IBARRA PHOTO

Then, it’s on to the “procurement process,” Figueroa has said in the past, after which, construction can start.

Prior to the vote, outgoing council members Bill Hodge and Lewis Pacheco had a few words on the progress made.

“I am happy that Calexico is the lead in this,” Hodge said simply. “It’s a feather in our cap, so it’s very important.”

Pacheco said the experience of Angel will be an asset to the city considering all the “issues” the city has had to face in bringing the improvement project to fruition.

“I’m sure that he’s well-informed and he knows what’s going on,” Pacheco said. “I think he will be a good consultant for us to carry on the duties … It’s a good choice.”

Mayor Rosie Fernandez was not in attendance at the meeting Nov. 18. Mayor Pro Tem Morris Reisin, who is also being replaced on the council soon, and re-elected appointed council member Camilo Garcia did not comment on the issue.

New River Community Forum Nov. 19

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Figueroa informed the council members that a community forum to update the public on the New River Strategic Plan, state funding, and project timelines will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19.

The city manager, Assembly member Garcia, and officials with Cal EPA and DWR will speak during the forum, all broadcasting live from their home locations via Zoom, but there will also be room for Calexico community members to safely watch and listen to the forum in person in their vehicles from Nosotros Park, which is near ground zero, the banks of the New River.

Figueroa said Brawley nonprofit and environmental justice organization Comite Covico Del Valle is making that possible by setting up a screen and speakers to broadcast the Zoom meeting at the park.

Those at home can see the forum by following the Zoom link https://bit.ly/36TWL5U, or going to the city’s website to find the link.

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The New River is shown from the Mexico border (right) to the All-American Canal left) in Calexico in this satellite image. | GOOGLEMAPS