Highland's concrete jungle

Robertson's Ready Mix stores its concete structures west of State Route 210 between Fifth Street and San Bernardino Avenue.

The Santa Ana River Wash Land Exchange is headed to the president’s desk.

It was approved by the House of Representatives Tuesday on a 363-62 vote as part of the massive Natural Resources Management Act.

Daniel Cozad, executive director of the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District, which has been working on the plan for nearly two decades, said President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill.

Senate Bill 47 combines more than 100 pieces of legislation including the land-exchange bill co-sponsored by Rep. Paul Cook, a Republican from Apple Valley, and Pete Aguilar, a Democrat from Redlands.

It was approved last week by the U.S. Senate 92-8.

The Santa Ana River Wash Land Exchange Act  allows for the ongoing expansion of sensitive habitat areas and water conservation, while establishing appropriate areas for mining operations that provide $36 million in payroll annually to the region, according to a press release from the district.

Senate Bill 47 clears the way for the Bureau of Land Management to exchange land with the district under regulations in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

The 4,500-acre Wash Plan was developed over many years by a local Wash Plan Task Force made up of the cities of Highland and Redlands, the conservation district, East Valley Water District, San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, CEMEX, Robertson’s Ready Mix, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, Inland Valley Development Agency and the Endangered Habitats League.

“This legislation is an important step in helping local efforts that are good for the environment, good for the local water supply, and good for business and jobs in our region,” said  Cozad.

Originally introduced as separate legislation by Cook and Aguilar, the Wash Plan was reintroduced this year by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, as SB 47, a companion bill.

Cozad called its passage collaboration at its best.

“It shows that it is possible for both sides of the aisle and both houses to work together to help the communities they serve,” he said.

“We really appreciate the work of everyone involved in bringing this legislation to life.”

 Rep. Cook called the Wash Plan a win for the economy and a win for the environment.

“This will align local land ownership with appropriate uses, setting aside already disturbed land for aggregate mining and setting aside important habitat for conservation purposes,” he said.

Rep. Aguilar agreed.

“The Wash Plan will empower industries to take root and flourish, continue investments in our transportation and infrastructure, and preserve our environment and regional wildlife.

“This is an important step forward for our communities,” he said.

Cozad said the land exchange will lead to more protection efforts for habitat, improved connectivity in the wildlife corridor, expanded water recharge and storage capacity and the future establishment of public access and trails which, once built, would connect and help complete the Santa Ana River Trail.

“This project has been 15 years in the making,” Cozad said.

“Doing a Habitat Conservation Plan with this many seemingly conflicting interests is unusual, particularly when you consider each has a different mission to implement.”

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