County Parks contractors began removing obstacles from the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park today, March 3, just weeks after they were installed.
After a National Border Patrol Council (union) safety officer raised concerns that newly installed bollards and fences put agents in harm's way during pursuits last week, the county immediately agreed to remove seven of the bollards and three of the fences that went in as part of a park improvement project.
The county and the Border Patrol had at least one meeting in the past week to iron out additional concerns and try to find a balance between allowing border agents to do their jobs and the county's efforts to open areas of the park to the public. Both organizations declined to comment on the recent developments on March 3.
On Friday, February 27, Border Patrol agents guided the rescue of an injured equestrian in the area. According to fire department and witness reports, a woman fell from a horse in the area north of Monument Road at around 4:15 in the afternoon. A fire truck and ambulance that responded were unable to reach the injured woman and remained on Monument Road while Border Patrol agents on ATVs "took the medics and their necessary equipment to the patient where they provided initial treatment and transported the patient to the ambulance," according to a statement from San Diego Fire and Rescue spokesman Lee Swanson.
The report indicates that the victim was about a quarter mile from the road where the rigs waited. The fire-department report, which was generated the day of the injury but not released until today, differs with statements of other witnesses.
Swanson spoke to the crew on Tuesday and said that the newly placed obstacles were not a factor in the fire crew's inability to drive the ambulance to the injured woman. Instead, he said, the softness of the dirt road was the problem. However, witnesses speaking on condition of anonymity said that the accident occurred in an area where vehicles are newly blocked from access by gates, fences, and bollards.
It is not unusual for Border Patrol agents to be first on the scene in the wildlands south of Imperial Beach and west of Nestor and San Ysidro. They are almost always first responders to accidents and injuries in the area and have guided medics, deputies, fire trucks and police to calamities ranging from brush fires to car crashes and injured equestrians.
A river-valley business owner said she believes the county construction has made it difficult for emergency vehicles to get in.
"They made a lot of really unsafe decisions on that project and they didn't talk to the horsemen about it," said the business owner. "You used to see the Border Patrol trucks out there, but now they can't get in — only the quads can get in. Most of the project now, ambulances can't get in."
The business owner said she has her own reasons for not liking the project — she came to work one morning and found fences and boulders blocking access from her corrals to the trail next to the corrals, which are about two miles from the beach.
"It takes a half hour to get around this stuff [by the corrals] now," she said. "We used to ride from the ranch to the beach, but now I just trailer the horses and drive them to the state-park gate and start from there."
The author is a regular hiker on the upland trails in the Tijuana River Valley who appreciates the efforts of both the U.S. Border Patrol and the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park staff.