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In the latest effort to re-open the Clear Creek Management Area of southern San Benito County to off-road use, this week California Congressmen Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), David G. Valadao (CA-21), Jeff Denham (CA-10), and Paul Cook (CA-08) introduced H.R. 1913, the Clear Creek National Recreation Area and Conservation Act. The bill directs the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to reopen the 63,000-acre Clear Creek Management Area in San Benito and Fresno counties for use by off-road vehicles. The legislation would also protect 21,000 acres of BLM land adjacent to Clear Creek by designating the area the Joaquin Rocks Wilderness.

“As a Californian on the Natural Resources Committee, it is important to me to protect and preserve California’s public lands for future generations,” Panetta said in a press release. “This bipartisan bill not only bolsters our area’s conservation efforts, it also promotes recreation and tourism in our region. When this bill passes, locals and visitors will no longer be restricted from enjoying all that Clear Creek Management Area has to offer.”

San Benito County Supervisor Jerry Muenzer told BenitoLink on Thursday that he had previously encouraged Panetta to re-introduce the legislation that now-retired Congressman Sam Farr had been trying to get through Congress. His legislation had cleared the house but stalled in the Senate.

“We just ran out of time,” Muenzer said. “It was an election year and just didn’t work its way through the Senate. I’m hopeful that this time it will.”

Valadao added that “Californians have been enjoying the natural beauty of Clear Creek for decades. This legislation is a common-sense solution which not only reopens the land for off highway vehicle use but also directs additional land to be preserved for future generations. I am excited to reintroduce this bipartisan legislation with my colleagues and look forward to reopening the Clear Creek Management Area for our constituents and the entire state to enjoy once again.”=

A similar bill, H.R. 1838, to reopen the Clear Creek Management Area for recreational use was introduced in 2015 by Farr. Once considered a premier off-road vehicle recreation site, Clear Creek was temporarily closed in 2008 to the public after an Environmental Protection Agency analysis about the risk created by naturally occurring asbestos. The bill instructs the BLM to develop a rigorous plan to minimize the risk from asbestos exposure and educate visitors about the naturally occurring asbestos. The BLM would also be required to find ways to reduce the impact of off-road vehicles to protect the area’s habitat.

Muenzer said that the off-road enthusiasts who visited Clear Creek also brought tourist dollars to San Benito County and could do so again if the area is re-opened to the public.

“People would come down from the Bay Area, drive through Hollister, San Juan and Tres Pinos and spend money at gas stations and restaurants and spend time at hotels and motels.”