POWERLINK APPROVED BY FOREST SERVICE; OPPONENTS VOW TO FILE LAWSUIT
LOCAL LEADERS REACT TO DECISION WITH SHOCK & AWE
July 13, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) – The last 19-mile link of SDG&E’s controversial Sunrise Powerlink transmission line project has been approved by Cleveland National Forest director William Metz, the Union-Tribune reports.
“We are not surprised by Metz’s decision, although we are disappointed,” Laura Cyphert, cofounder of the East County Community Action Coalition (ECCAC), an organization representing 79,000 people opposed to Powerlink, told East County Magazine. “Metz was under considerable political pressure. Fortunately we have anticipated this day, and are prepared to take every necessary legal action…Over a year ago, the legwork was started for a lawsuit against the Forest Service in the event that they permitted this project. We are well positioned to prevail in the court room.”
Donna Tisdale, founder of Backcountry Against Dumps, another group that has taken legal action to halt the Powerlink, confirmed, "Our coalition (BAD, POC, ECCAC) will appeal this approval and others to follow. Our attorney is ready to go."
She added, "Successful fundraising is crucial to reaching our goal to overturn all the Sunrise approvals."
Other lawsuits have already been filed in state and federal courts seeking to overturn decisions by the California Public Utilities Commission and the Bureau of Land Management.
Metz defends his choice
Throughout the deliberative process, the Forest Service sought to balance California’s renewable energy needs with minimizing impacts to the environment to the greatest extent possible," Metz said in a prepared statement issued by the U.S. Forest Service today. "The Forest Service's decision to authorize the project provides future access to renewable energy, improves energy system reliability, and will reduce transmission congestion in the greater San Diego area. The citizens of Southern California will benefit from implementation of Sunrise Powerlink and it is in the national interest to allow Forest lands to be utilized for this project."
The decision adopts mitigation measures detailed in the Final EIR/EIS and the Fish and Wildlife Service's Biological Opinion for defensible space, fire suppression failities and steps to miminze impacts on the environment. The decision amends the Cleveland National Forest Land Management Plan (LMP) to provide a project-specific exception regarding scenic integrity along the transmission line route, riparian conditions and biological resource condition goals in riparian conservation areas, and for the construction of the transmission line in a backcountry non-motorized area.
"We carefully considered the public comments, and reviewed the information contained in the Supplemental Information Report in determining that further environmental analysis is not needed," added Metz. "A Special Use Permit will be issued to SDG&E contingent on resolution of any potential appeals to my decision, and project certification under the Clean Water Act by the State of California Water Resources Control Board."
Critics assail decision
Supervisor Dianne Jacob expressed deep disappointment in the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to approve the Sunrise Powerlink, but added that she is not surprised. “The approval ignores the lasting consequences that will result from the line, particularly the severe fire danger. There is a trail of pressure by SDG&E and political influence that has followed this project since its inception and the decision by the Forest Service is no exception,” she said in a prepared statement today. “Although we had hoped for a favorable decision, it has always been my belief that this matter would ultimately be settled by the courts. I’m confident in the case that will be presented by the opponents. The facts and evidence in the record are on our side.”
Ray Lutz, Democratic candidate for the 52nd Congressional district, leveled criticism at Republican and Democratic leaders who supported Powerlink. “I am, like so many residents in the East County, disappointed that elected officials tend to do a minimum of investigation into the facts and instead rely on the findings of other organizations, or go by the sugar-coated statements from SDG&E and the energy-industrial complex. Such was obviously the case of Mr. Metz,” Lutz said. “He relied on the findings by the CPUC and the BLM, who relied on the findings of officials like Schwartzenegger and Feinstein who actually spent no time to find out the underlying facts of the project before they endorsed it.”
He added, “SDG&E continues to say that it is the most studied project in history, but they always fail to mention that the 11,000 page Environmental Impact Report recommended in their top three options that the transmission line not be built at all. Their claim that this line will help the robustness of the grid does not stand up to any scrutiny, since SDG&E must power-down these transmission lines in any high-wind events.”
Congressman Duncan D. Hunter (R-El Cajon), sent a letter to Metz opposing the project in its final phase. But Lutz calls that effort “too little too late" and arguably "more harm than good" since Hunter advocated nuclear as an alternative.
“At this point, our last hope is through the courts, and then perhaps to citizen action of chaining ourselves to the tractors to stop this hideous perturbation of common sense,” Lutz concluded. “The Powerlink must be stopped, and I will fight with all residents in the East County to stop it!”
Opponents have argued that there is no guarantee that the high-voltage line will carry energy from green sources, since SDG&E refused to guarantee to the California Public Utilities Commission that any of the power would be from renewable. The company has been negotiating to bring power from large-scale wind and solar projects in the Imperial Valley.
Many area residents have also opposed Powerlink due to concerns over fire safety, since the state’s environmental impact report indicated Powerlink poses a severe and unmitigatable fire risk, including fire-prone areas such as Lakeside. Health concerns from electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) and loss of views have also been raised as issues.
Some expressed skepticism over the integrity of the process, noting that the Forest Service refused to hold a public hearing on the matter. A hearing convened by Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who opposes the project, drew more than 700 area residents in Alpine—all speaking against the project.
“The Sempra CEO makes 20 million a year. It seems like there is a lot of money in energy and I feel a money trail heading towards William Metz,” Lakeside resident Dennis Richardson said upon learning of the decision. “It’s fishy when you get many hundreds of people of the community fighting the project, showing up to meetings, spending hard-earned money filing law suits and writing letters to Metz and nobody supporting it, yet the Sunrise Powerlink gets blessed by the Cleveland National Forest director.”
Other community leaders praise approval of project
“This key decision accelerates the momentum for the Sunrise Powerlink, a project that will create much needed jobs, lower greenhouse gas emissions and bolster reliability for the region’s power grid,” said Jessie J. Knight, Jr., chief executive officer of SDG&E. “This project will access vast, untapped sources of renewable power for the people of San Diego County and help create a cleaner, more environmentally-responsible future for the region.“
“This was the last major hurdle for the Powerlink project, something SDG&E had been waiting for in excess of two years," San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Mike Cully told East County Magazine. "This was a rigorous process with National Forest officials doing their due diligence in attempting to determine the true environmental impacts on the region. In the end, the green light means that the much needed project can proceed, ultimately assuring that our regions’ power needs will be met with stable sources of clean, reliable energy transmission. This is a positive step in shoring-up California’s future infrastructure needs.”
Publication of the legal notice concerning this decision in the Union Tribune establishes the 45-day Administrative Review Period (appeal period) for the decision. Appeals must be filed with the Appeal Deciding Officer, Randy Moore, Regional Forester, USDA Forest Service, 1323 Club Drive, Vallejo, CA 94592, Attn: APPEALS.
Additional information pertain to the project, and the Forest Service Record of Decision are posted on-line at www.fs.fed.us/r5/cleveland/projects/sunrise-powerlink/.