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U.S. Approves Border Sewage Plant

TIMES STAFF WRITER

U.S. authorities have given their approval to initial plans to construct an almost $200-million binational sewage-treatment complex near the U.S.-Mexico boundary line in San Diego, opening the way for a formal agreement between both nations, officials said Tuesday.

The consent of U.S. officials to the proposed project is considered an important development in resolving the decades-old dilemma of what to do with the huge volume of Tijuana sewage that has long befouled farmland, horse ranches, beaches and other land in San Diego County.

The consent of U.S. authorities--including officials from the State Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Office of Management and Budget--had been eagerly awaited by proponents of the project. Mexican authorities had already given their imprimatur to the informal agreement.

The joint project--to be financed with U.S. and Mexican funds--is viewed by many as the only viable solution for the cross-border pollution problem, which has at times strained relations between the United States and Mexico.

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Part of the informal pact would allow financially strapped Mexico to pay its share of the mega-project--an amount totaling perhaps $41 million--during a 10-year period, thus stretching out the fiscal impact.

However, the planned international sewage treatment complex--an almost $200-million project, including an elaborate system of pipelines on both sides of the border and an outfall extending 3 miles into the Pacific--is still far from reality. Many questions about its design and ultimate funding remain to be worked out. The Bush Administration is seeking $15.7 million to finance design work and initial construction costs.

The treatment facility, which would treat up to 25 million gallons a day of Tijuana-generated wastes, is not slated to be in operation until the end of 1994.

The U.S. approval sets the stage for signing the formal agreement between the governments of the United States and Mexico, said Jose Valdez, a spokesman for Narendra N. Gunaji, U.S. representative on the International Boundary and Water Commission, the binational U.S.-Mexico body that is proposing to construct the huge project.

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San Diego-area congressional representatives, in a joint statement, said Tuesday that the long-awaited U.S. approval should open the way for formal binational adoption of a sewage-plant pact as soon as next month.

“This agreement is a giant step for the environment,” U.S. Rep. Bill Lowery (R-Coronado), said in the joint statement. “It is a pleasure to announce that a solution is not only at hand but is now inevitable.”

Added U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson, (R-Calif.), “It’s a victory for border residents, the environment, and all Californians.”


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