Rotary guest tells of fight for Tijuana River Estuary

ENCINITAS — At a recent meeting of the Encinitas Rotary Club, member Paul Davis introduced Mike McCoy, an environmental activist, who spoke on the hurdles that face those who work to protect a bit of the world. The tale told of two men with the same concern for the same area, who ended up on opposite ends of the issue.
In 1990, McCoy was honored with a Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Award by former president Ronald Reagan. The Imperial Beach veterinarian was nominated by his local congressman, Duncan Hunter, for his critical work in cleaning up the sewage entering the Tijuana River estuary from Mexico. Besides the spread of the pollution, especially into the ocean, McCoy knew that the fisheries of the world rely on estuaries and need to be preserved. His campaign to block harmful development led to the creation of the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve.
In the early days, Hunter made his staff available to McCoy to help with the project, and the two men shared a goal. When Hunter proposed the idea of a border fence to stem illegal immigration into Imperial Beach, McCoy supported him, although for a reason that differed from Hunter’s. McCoy believed a fence would greatly decrease the foot traffic across the estuary, which seemed to be a simple solution to eliminate that source of damage.
Over time, McCoy realized that the immigrants were coming in despite the fences, but were facing deadlier obstacles in doing so. When Hunter worked for legislation to provide additional layers of fencing that would continue inland for several miles, McCoy lost his common ground with the Congressman. McCoy fought the proposal, and for many years sought a more environmentally secure fencing plan. The delay frustrated both men and their missions. The Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Asociation and other environmental protection groups sued the federal government. Hunter countered by writing language into the Real ID Act of 2005 that would allow Homeland Security to supersede any laws that stood in the way of the fencing construction.
The outcome now leaves the two men in conflict. Hunter, as he leaves Congress, is assured that his mission will be finished; for what started as an idea of a barrier to curb illegal immigration is now a matter of national security. On the other side, McCoy does not see signs of special care being taken to accommodate what threatens the more ecologically sensitive areas, which includes the estuary. While recommended, he holds little trust that the appropriate ponds and structures will be put into place to arrest the silt and diminish erosion. His long-term hope is that the layers of fencing will one day be removed, when the destruction to wildlife is realized on a much more universal level.


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