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BROKEN PROMISES: OCOTILLO WIND PROJECT WINS APPROVAL DESPITE OUTCRY FROM TRIBES, RESIDENTS AND ENVIRONMENTALISTS




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By Miriam Raftery

 

 

 

 

April 26, 2012 (Ocotillo) – A former firefighter who has parachuted into raging wildfires, Viejas Community Relations Director Charlie Brown (photo, left above) has no shortage of courage. But he choked back tears as he spoke about what Ocotillo and its ancient geoglyphs means to him and other tribes that have long considered the site sacred.

Brown has heard stories from his grandfather, who lived to be 109, about Ocotillo--where mountains are named in tribal creation stories. He has taken his own son there to learn about his heritage. One giant geoglyph is registered on the National Registry of Historic Places. Tribes across the southwest convene here for sacred ceremonies.

But soon, Brown fears, the sound of turbines atop his ancestors’ graves will “be like beating on somebody’s soul…sacrificing something that’s been there for 10,000 years.”  http://youtu.be/FbPmplN2UDA.

Despite the pleas of Native Americans, area residents and enviornmentalists seeking to stop the  Ocotillo Express wind project, Imperial Valley Supervisors approved it by a 4-1 vote late yesterday after a two-day hearing. The project's Environmental Impact Review has already been approved by the Bureau of Land Management and final approval could come to begin road construction within days.

The project is among the first major industrial energy projects to gain approval using a new "fast tracking" approval process for energy projects on public lands--a process opponents say could lead to the destruction of many of America's scenic jewels and cultural heritage sites.

Native Americans have long bourne the brunt of broken promises by the federal government and now that sad legacy continues.  Viejas tribal council member Raymond “Bear” Cuero stated that violations of NEPA, CEQUA, SB 38 and other laws have occurred.  Environmentalists have attested that numerous state and federal designations to protect public lands and this fragile desert ecosystem specifically have also been trampled and ignored by federal, state and county officials in their haste to fast-track the industrial energy project touted as "renewable."

Barring a court injunction, construction is set to begin in early May--and along with it, the permanent destruction of a fragile desert environment and sites held sacred by local tribes for generations. 

Brown told Supervisors, “We’ve got to speak up. It’s our destiny….I believe that my people are telling me, it’s time to stand up, fight for us.”

He is not alone.

Helena Quintana Arrow-weed of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation, decried the Supervisors' action as “one horrible, terrible, very bad day for everyone.” In an e-mail  forwarded to ECM, she stated that Quechan tribal council members planned to meet today with Viejas Chairman Anthony Pico and other tribal representatives to strategize.

“ I believe they will form a coalition to work together to fight in court,” she predicted.

Pico previously sent a letter to President Obama imploring him to help protect Indian rights and save their sacred sites, as ECM previously reported, but the President has not answered.

Residents and environmental groups have also lawyered up and are gearing up to likely file suits as well.

Viejas tribal chairman Anthony Pico noted that Native Americans have contributed a lot to Imperial Valley's economy.  A single casino project creates more jobs than Pattern's wind project.  Viejas has contributed large sums to many charitable causes in Imperial Valley benefitting children, the elderly and other community members.  He noted that the tribe has done so for years, not to curry favor, but because "it's the right thing to do."  He added, "It is us who will be here long after Pattern is gone, if you so choose."

The Southern California Tribal Chairman's Association has also weighed in against the project due to its threat of destruction of "irreplaceable cultural resources" and more.

The scope is massive: 112 turbines each 450 feet tall with blades the size of commercial jetliner wingspans on 12,500 acres of public land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, adjacent to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  In addition, underground power lines, 83 miles of fiberoptic, many miles of new roads, and a 2.1 acre substation and switchyard will be built.  The project is forecast to generate 265 MW of power, or enough to fuel 125,000 homes.  

Supervisors surprised opponents by approving an implementation agreement instead of the standard conditional use permit (CUP). 

“Lawyers on our side say it is illegal to make that kind of substitution outside the EIR framework,” Susan Massey told ECM. “Our lawyers say the agreement has no teeth and leaves the county without control.”   A CUP would have allowed the county to revoke the permit if certain conditions were not met, including mitigation required in the EIR.

During the hearing, Native American monitors took the unusual step of showing a Powerpoint presentation of sites normally kept secret from the public.

Carmen Lucas revealed that the site contains 20,000 lithic artifacts, or debris from making stone tools, as well as geoglyphs such as an arrow pointing toward water, cleared circles used as dreamquests, and a massive spokeswheel geoglyph on the National Register of Historic Places. The latter has a 360 degree viewshed of sacred mountains in local tribes’ creation stories including the Coyote, Pinon, and Jacumba Mountains. “This is the corridor in which the spirit travels,” she said. But that corridor will soon be blocked by massive whirling turbines.

Pattern Energy’s Glenn Hodges, in his presentation, stated “This is a landmark project that will help the county on its path to economic vitality through renewable energy.” 

The project application has estimated the project will bring $150 million in tax revenues to the county over the next 30 years, as well as  short-term sales tax revenues during construction.  Besides construction jobs, Hodges told Supervisors that 20 permanent jobs will be created—even though last week, he was caught on video admitting that only one permanent job can be guaranteed.

Natalie O’Brien, also with Pattern, claimed no bighorn sheep are on the site (even though ECM provided photos documenting sheep in the project boundary).  She also claimed “very low use” by birds and bats, even though a document submitted by California State Parks during the scoping process cited concerns over negative impacts on migratory birds, eagles and bats. 

Conrad Kramer with the Anza Borrego Foundation testified that “the staff of Anza Borrego Desert State Park has been silenced” but voiced concerns over “huge” visual impacts as well as negative impacts on bighorn sheep, birds, bats, and “huge mortality rates” among flat-tailed horned lizards and other ground life.

As for concerns voiced by residents over  health impacts from infrasonic low-frequency sound, O’Brien stated smugly, “We think that should be discounted.”

She offered no valid reason why supervisors should not explore the growing body of medical and scientific evidence documenting health damage from infrasonic sound—an issue so serious that San Diego’s Planning Commission is consider enacting a strict infrasound limit on wind turbines. That's after residents in multiple countries have fled their homes near wind facilities due to severe headaches, ear pain, heart problems and sleeplessness, among other symptoms. Locally, Manzanita Indians have complained of health problems from living near wind turbines and now an epdemiiologist has measured ground currents 1,000 times normal in their tribal hall and church.  There are also serious safety issues

Another speaker stated that offiicials around the world are taking a hard look at health impacts of wind turbines. Some, such as Brown County, Wisconsin health officials and supervisors, have asked for state emergency funds to relocate families near turbines who are suffering health impacts. More and more are asking for larger setbacks to lessen serious health problems.

Ocotillo resident Cherrie Pelley read a statement indicating that Pattern previously claimed noise levels will not pose problems for residents and will sound like a dishwasher in the next room.  But she disclosed that Pattern’s Glenn Hodges previously offered at an August 25, 2011 Bureau of Land Management meeting to buy her home and her neighbor’s homes.  She said Hodges stated that “that area is going to be at the borderline of the legal limit.”  But she recalled, “I repied `I don’t want to sell my house; it’s everything I ever dreamed of.’”

Pattern has repeatedly refused to be interviewed or provide comment.  The company declined to speak with ECM or with ABC 10 news when serious seismic safety concerns were raised about placing virtually atop active earthquake faults in an area with a strong likelihood of a major quake--on soil capable of liquefaction. 

An environmentalist from Basin and Range said he was “horrified” that an ocotillo forest and sensitive desert lands would be considered for industrializing. He likened it as “akin to drawing a knifeblade across the Mona Lisa.”

He also said that opponents were given only 30 days to review changes in an Environmental Impact Statement  (EIS) that weighed 25 pounds and contained 5,500 pages. 

“We don’t know what all the changes are,” he said.

Ocotillo resident Jim Pelley, an engineer and award-wining photojournalist, presented a slide show with evidence suggesting that the site has inadequate winds and the project should not have received federal funding for that reason. http://youtu.be/GSqLJT89wns. Pattern's figures indicate wind speeds of only 8.8-10.7 mph on average annually.  “Annual average wind speed for a financially viable wind project needs to be between 14.3 mph and 15.7 mph,” said Pelley.  

Pattern denied the claim, indicating it has had five meteorologists who have measured wind speeds higher in the atmosphere and found them ample. http://youtu.be/nyBH-oOd2bw.

As for Pattern’s contention that wind speeds at higher elevations are faster, Pelley told ECM, “We have done some Ocotillo MythBuster experiments of our own…On those days where the wind is not blowing at ground elevations, we have fired off model rockets that travel over 600 feet in the air and then a parachute is deployed—it basically comes straight down….We have also released helium balloons and they don hot change course at higher elevations.”

Nearly all of the testimony in favor of the project centered around jobs and came from people who don’t have to live near the turbines, including labor officials and Chamber of Commerce leaders.

Imperial Valley has the highest unemployment rate in the nation.  Pattern representative Glenn Hodges told Supervisors the project will bring 20 permanent jobs as well as hundreds of temporary construction jobs---even though earlier this month an ECM video documented him admitting to a planner that Pattern would guarantee only one permanent local job.

But Eleanor Jones, an Ocotillo resident, said she supports the turbines because Pattern has shown a willingness to give charitable contributions in this impoverished community.  “Sometimes things have to change for the better, even if we don’t like looking at them,” she said of the industrial wind turbines.

Supervisors offered explanations for their decisions.

Supervisor Raymond Castillo said he supported the project because he believes global warming is a serious problem that officials must help to control. 

Board chairman Michael Kelly called the project part of “the systematic advancement of civilization” that also includes telephones and air travel.  He noted that while once Indians were the region’s only occupants, whites have since come to spread “civilization” across the country. 

Supervisors John Renison and Gary Wyatt indicated they, too, view the project as the way of the future.

Supervisor Jack Terrazo, who cast the sole “no” vote, said the project “scares me” because he

fears Pattern may abandon the project if it proved unprofitable and leave the turbines. Pattern has a checkered record in Hawaai.  A Campo, California wind farm built by Pattern blew apart in a storm as ECM previously reported, needing all 75 blades replaced; litigation ensued and rusted turbines continue to litter the site two years later. Pattern's parent company, Riverstone, and its founder paid $50 million to settle a public pension fraud case in New York.

Terrazo wanted to be sure that they had a bond to cover decommissioning the project, which has a projected 30-year life. 

In earlier testimony, Pattern said decommissioning would including removing turbines and roads, though infrastructure deeper than three feet would remain.

But for the wildlife and cultural resources slated to be destroyed, project opponents say the damage will be forever.

 

 

 

Outrage

The Supervisors should be recalled. All hands on deck to send the message that destruction of the gorgeous desert will not be tolerated. This is an outrage, no different than the uncivilized, heinous acts of the past in destroying Native American culture and lands. This is not progress, it is a blasphemy that, if allowed, will result in serious illness and destruction of this fragile, historic, and yes - sacred - land. I'd like to see the Native American interests fight it along with national environmental groups. Fight it with all you've got. Perhaps call for a sit-in by all Native Americans and all concerned citizens, blocking the construction. Refuse to allow destruction of the sacred grounds. There are available experts and research on the illness that will result: http://bst.sagepub.com/content/31/5/414, get a court order to block it. Perhaps Viejas can finance this - and pull the financing of any interests in the county till this project is halted. Play hardball is my advice. We have to take a stand against the outrageous conduct of the Obama administration in running over top of our rights.

I have never seen an American president ruin a nation's land and health as fast as this one, the Obama administration is hard at work desecrating all that is pristine, with smart meters, cell towers, fracking, solar, and wind farms. I think a few of these on the White House lawn would be appropriate. What hypocrisy. And the Republicans are no different.

RECALL. RESIST. DON'T GIVE UP. THE FUTURE DEPENDS ON US.

 

Ocotillo Wind Project = Horrible Planning/BAD IDEA

Forget about the viability of the project for now. Even if it was the best location in the world for harnessing the wind's energy(WHICH IT ISN'T!!!)Even if no sensitive archeological sites existed(THEY DO, MORE SO THAN ANY PROPOSED WIND OR SOLAR PROJECT IN American Southwest!!!!!),the idea that putting the equivalent of a large city's skyline, with 45 story propeller towers in one of the primary view corridors of the state's largest state park, is plain and simple,a lack of planning and nonrenewable.I have witnessed some of the most amazing wildflower displays & ocotillo forest blooms on a regular basis, when the rain is the right amount, in the washes which run from the Dos Cabezas, Mortero Canyon to the S2, these washes will be rendered industrial wasteland!!That cancels any gain from wind turbine generation.The slow alluvial incline starting in the surrounding mountains and badlands which continue to lose elevation toward the Salton Sea, provide a wonderful timeless view towards the rising sun and Mexico beyond. This incredible park has 360 views maintaining this timeless quality,providing a glimpse into our land's past. This unmarred landscape & environs allow us to look back in time and see something very close to what it actually looked like back then. The mountains hide the development in all directions. The lights at night in Calexico,Mexicali,and beyond are one of the few indications of the modern world we live in. As our cities grow and many surrounding areas become developed we need to maintain our state parks both land and associated views. If the park loses these view sheds, they are not renewable or mitigatable, there is NOTHING SUSTAINABLE ABOUT THIS TYPE OF PROJECT! I look at these elderly board of supervisors and wonder if they have children? Just like the fraudulent $unrise Power Link fiasco, better sustainable solutions exist and are widely dispersed in the form of academic papers, blogs, and case studies worldwide!!!
If we planned our future wisely we would harness as much solar and wind power on our already disturbed lands, away from any parklands and their view sheds. We would locate these energy sources on rooftops in every city ,in basin, eliminating the majority of transmission lines and providing a diversified portfolio of energy sources, reducing the possibility of brown outs,etc..... Feed in tariffs, subsidizing the individual usage of solar panels(case study Germany. Do you think we have more sun then they do?)instead subsidies for corporations whose profits are all the matter, and have no concern in the region's future.

Agreed. As compelling as many

Agreed.

As compelling as many of the the practical/utilitarian problems are, the primary objection to this monstrosity is and will always be aesthetic. Could anything testify more clearly to the ideological insensibility of Obama and Co. than their insistence on the destruction of such a unique, and spectacularly beautiful natural wonder--all for the sake of conformity with arbitrary, ineffectual carbon reduction goals? 

There is some good that will come from Ocotillo

There was something good to come out of all this. Every time there is a publicized fight, more and more people get educated about this industry. Those that are educated, realize that the wind industry must lie to survive. Soon the industry will run out of lies. Here are some of the more notable wind industry lies.  1) From a 1998 Report to Congress "This report acknowledges that birds can get killed when they roost on the horizontal cross bars of a latticed tower and then fly through the wind turbine's rotor. This information mainly comes from California where huge windfarms were built along migratory bird routes. The recommendation to reduce bird kill impact is to use solid pole towers such as that proposed for 1460 Marchner Road. This keeps birds from roosting on the tower." "The fact of the matter is that birds get killed when they roost on the towers that support the wind machines, and their vision is so acute that they see their prey and don't see the rotating blades which are moving very fast, and so they take off after prey and fly through the blades without even realizing the blades are there. So the real problem is, how do you keep the birds from roosting on that wind support structure before they ever go off after their prey?" This is typical of the wind industry lies, studies and deception that have taken place for 28 years concerning the mass killing of birds and bats.  Roger Clemens, who is being investigated by congress for lying to Congress, is a Saint compared to these profiteers.  2) "We are going to get off middle eastern oil". Back to the late 1970's and early 1980's the industry won favor with the public with this line of garbage. This did not happen and it never will happen.  3) "Wind turbines will solve our energy problems". In truth only a small percentage of the nation's energy can ever be produced with wind energy and this energy is intermittent. We will still have all the other current energy problems.  4) "Wind farms will help solve global warming and man made climate change". This can not happen because the continual loss of top soil and deforestation are the primary causes for our changing climate. Wind farms add to this problem. In America our forests are a disgrace but this fact is hidden in lies about sustained yield.  5)"It is green energy". Truly Green Energy is energy that does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Tell that to the future generations of birds and bats that must endure this industrial genocide. Tell that to the future generations of people that must face dead ecosystems across the planet from so called green industries. Hypocritical Industries that are also giving themselves buckets of carbon credits.

Ocotillo Wind / Pattern Economics

After an intensive search of the 5500 pages in the impact report I cannot find how much energy this project will supply. The report talks of capacity, but how much of that capacity will be realized seems a secret. This 100 mph car may never get above 20. We are not told.
Nor does the report reveal revenue from selling what electricity it does make, or what the energy produced will cost customers. This, after using our money - government grants - to create the project, on our land.
Pattern intends to make a fat profit on the construction phase. Later, if operating the turbines turns out to be unprofitable, we will be left with 112 pieces of rusting junk.
For this alone, even ignoring everything else wrong, BLM and Imperial County should be ashamed. I am embarrassed for them.

The Fix was always in

Like it or not the "fix" was in on this project from the beginning. This is not sour grapes, this is reality. The whole process was as rigged as the wind industry's 28 years of bogus environmental documents. It is the world we live in and have lived in for decades. The truth is the people behind this industry are the same people that rape society with their 35% credit card fees. Right and wrong does not matter, only their profits do. The Ocotillo project is part of a very scary corporate master plan that most have not a clue about. But you and the environment will be paying through the nose for it. I think it would be fitting to put together an emergency election to dump those that voted for the project. I saw something similar in Shasta county. Ignorant supervisors courted by industry, that were about as smart as Elmer Fudd. I am sure it happened in your county as well. Many in these positions are nothing more than knuckleheads with egos. Get them out of there. Also another thing folks can do is make as much noise as possible in Washington. The wind industry is still after tax credits that they do not deserve. I have little faith in Washington but sometimes when these guys are under the looking glass, they get a conscience. DETAILS FOR SUBMISSION OF WRITTEN COMMENTS: Please Note: Any person(s) and/or organization(s) wishing to submit written comments for the hearing record must follow the appropriate link on the hearing page of the Committee website and complete the informational forms. From the Committee homepage, http://waysandmeans.house.gov, select “Hearings.” Select the hearing for which you would like to submit, and click on the link entitled, “Click here to provide a submission for the record.” Once you have followed the online instructions, submit all requested information. ATTACH your submission as a Word document, in compliance with the formatting requirements listed below, by the close of business on Thursday, May 10, 2012. Finally, please note that due to the change in House mail policy, the U.S. Capitol Police will refuse sealed-package deliveries to all House Office Buildings. For questions, or if you encounter technical problems, please call (202) 225-3625 or (202) 225-2610. This is the first paragraph of my comments that were submitted

The Wind Industry Deserves No Tax Credits I read the report submitted to Congress from the California Energy Commission concerning Avian Mortality from wind turbines and wind farm infrastructure. In my opinion Congress was lied to and deliberately misled about the dangers of the propeller style wind turbine. If Congress has the time to spend on Rodger Clemens for his testimony, surely Congress has the time to investigate this much more important matter concerning the slaughter of millions of birds and the ongoing cover-up by the wind industry. I encourage every member of Congress to read my report below and then go back and compare the statements submitted by those representing the wind industry.

Wind Turbines

This is a disgrace; a total sell-out. It's not only a betrayal of our local tribes' lands, values, and traditions, it is an offense against the sensibilities of all "true" conservationists. Where is The Sierra Club? Keeping silent, after their duplicitious and despicable complicity in the political trade offs they've made which have allowed this blight to happen in our back country. Is this "green enrgy?" Perhaps. Probably not. It's inefficient and UGLY, at any rate. Make no mistake, this is ALL aboout "politics," folks. And the conservation groups, as well as our local officials (who have their own reasons for permitting this ) have placed no aesthetic value on, and certainly have no respect for, the environment they are allowing to be destroyed. Check out the Altamont Wind Farm, in Central California. Their wind turbines have been responsible for not only the deaths of thousands of birds and raptors of all sorts, but specifically - and this is documented - for the deaths of SEVENTY Golden Eagles! Fads in the Green Movement will come and go, but at what ultimate cost? Desecrating this delicate and pristine desert area is a FOREVER act, folks! Shame on us for allowing it to happen. Utter shame!!

The unnamed environmentalist

The unnamed environmentalist who likened the desecration of this magnificent landscape to “to drawing a knifeblade across the Mona Lisa” is, of course, right. Furthermore, he would be entirely right even if—and this is a big “IF”--wind farms were an efficient, cost effective way of producing power.

But they aren't, and everyone knows it--including the sell-out supervisors!

This project wouldn't stand-up in a breath of wind if it weren't for the government subsidies beneath it. It is, in effect, a “green giveaway,” an exercise in political vanity designed to court favor among fashionable policy makers for whom things like “sustainable/renewable sources of energy” are the cause du jour.

Soon they'll move on and forget about about this place and what they've done, but their destruction of the desert will last forever.

 

 

 

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