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    Del Mar Horsepark (Horsetrader photo / Gordon Stevens)

    DEL MAR — The 22nd District Agricultural Association has conducted a second public hearing in less than three weeks to explain details of its closure of the Del Mar Horsepark for 2021. Del Mar Fairgrounds officials who manage the popular facility announced the closure in December, then held on online meeting Jan. 12 to a dismayed, rapidly growing list of petitioners against the move.

    A second online meeting on Jan. 29 when California Horsetrader went to press, was scheduled at 1:30 p.m.

    In a December email, 22nd DAA board President Richard Valdez said that continuing with an equestrian presence at the 64-acre Horsepark would require “a significant and immediate investment of funds to address water quality requirements, which is simply not possible given the dire effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the fairgrounds’ revenues.”

    Before the Jan. 12 meeting, advocates of keeping Horsepark open for equestrian shows, a riding school and other activities released a report that the facility’s water issues likely originate outside the property.

    In a published report, testing lab ALS Group USA Corp. of Irvine examined water samples taken during seasonal rains Dec. 28 upstream and downstream from the horse park. The upstream samples showed significantly higher amounts of coliforms, pollutants that come from human and animal waste.

    Carla Echols-Hayes, a Solana Beach resident and horse park advocate, told the San Diego U-T newspaper that the results “indicate that the Horsepark is not the source of any additional contaminants to the San Dieguito River Valley waterways.”

    Potential litigation by environmental groups was another cause of the closure, according to a Rancho Santa Fe Post article Jan. 24 by Phil Trubey. In the article, Valdez said that although they had not received any litigation threats, it was the possibility of such a lawsuit from San Diego Coastkeeper and Surfrider Foundation that made them decide to cancel all horse activities at Horsepark for all of 2021. Valdez cited a lawsuit settled in 2018 brought by Orange County Coastkeeper against Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park, a multi-use facility that hosts soccer tournaments and large horse shows. According to the report, in settling that lawsuit, the city of San Juan Capistrano paid Coastkeeper $1.9 million in attorney fees and also paid an additional $1 million directly to environmental groups.

    In his article, Trubey said he asked both San Diego Coastkeeper and the Surfrider Foundation their respective positions on Horsepark.

    Matt O’Malley, Executive Director and Managing Attorney for San Diego Coastkeeper, told RSF Post that the group has not threatened any lawsuits on the Horsepark, and “we do not wish to shut the park down.”

    Also in the article, Alex Ferron, chair of the San Diego Surfrider Foundation, said “Surfrider is not currently involved with this issue — or rather, have no horses in that race.”

    The Horsepark is located next to the San Dieguito River about two miles east of the fairgrounds. Fairgrounds staff will attempt to move horse shows to the fairgrounds, where there have been infrastructure upgrades “that can accommodate large-scale equestrian events.” Part of a recently completed two-year, $15 million infrastructure project were upgrades at the fairgrounds that include a holding pond, a constructed wetlands treatment area and other improvements to the racetrack infield. The fairgrounds has also built a stormwater treatment plant to comply with state and local regulations designed to protect nearby waters.

    To be added to the mailing list that receives Horsepark updates from the 22nd DAA, send your request to planning@sdfair.com

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