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PROTESTERS HOLD FUNERAL TO MOURN ‘DEATH OF DESERT’ IN OCOTILLO, NOTE IRONY OF PUBLIC LANDS DAY




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By Miriam Raftery

October 1, 2012 (Ocotillo) – “This project is completely wrong and it’s unethical,” said Anita Nicklen, one of dozens protesting on National Public Lands Day to draw attention to the destruction of public land in Ocotillo. “It’s our land and they’re building on public land. The desert is crying and weeping and bleeding.”

Protesters, some dressed in grim reaper costumers, staged a funeral to mourn the loss of the desert that they once loved.  A section of a wind turbine dwarfed protesters, dramatically illustrating the scope of their concerns.

They hope to draw attention to federal policies that allowed destruction of public lands for Pattern Energy’s Ocotillo Express industrial wind project. Ocotillo is the tip of a large iceberg, since the Bureau of Land Management is targeting 267 million acres of public lands –twice the size of Texas—for  renewable energy development.

“We are really unhappy with National Public Lands Day being celebrated in the face of destruction of many thousands of acres of land for wind energy projects,” Terry Weiner, projects coordinator with the Desert Protective Council, stated.

“We were here to send a messsge to the BLM for not protecting our desert and allowing big filthy rich corporations to destroy this land and profit off this secret, historical land with the help of taxpayer money,” said Jim Pelley, an award-winning photographer and Ocotillo resident.  The site contains Native American sacred sites including ceremonial grounds, cremation sites and thousands of artifacts.

“There are many things wrong with this project –the bottom line is this wind project is in an area where there is no wind,” Pelley added.

To illustrate that point, protesters gave kites to children and offered a $1 a minute prize for any who could get their kites to fly. (photo, right)

“We had no winners,” Pelley said on this windless day.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of residents alleging lack of wind resources at the site was dismissed last week by federal judge William Hayes who ruled that the group lacked standing. Judge Hayes did not address the merits of the arguments raised, however. 

Six other lawsuits remain in the courts, including suits filed by environmental and community groups as well as the Quechan tribe. 

Media covering the protest asked for comments from representatives of Pattern Energy and Blattner Construction, but both refused to comment.  Protesters repeatedly asked for the BLM to answer questions but the BLM did not respond.

“This project is now in a high speed, fast track mode,” said Pelley, noting that the developer wants to qualify for  wind production tax credits set to expire at year’s end.  “Serious issues have been raised, but yet everyone seems to be holding a blind eye to all of our concerns.”

The project includes 112 wind turbines each around 450 feet tall with blade spans the size of football fields and foundation holes around 238 feet wide.   The project, on 12,500 acres of public BLM land adjacent to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, also includes 42 miles of roads, a substation, and other industrial components. 

Century-old ocotillo plants have been destroyed, burrowing animal habitat crushed and take permits issued to kill endangered bighorn sheep at the project site.  In addition to tribal and environmental concerns, residents have complained about destruction of desert views, dust, noise, and health concerns from infrasound and stray voltage, since turbines will surround the town of Ocotillo as close as 1500 feet from homes.  Campgrounds and areas frequented by hikers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts are also impacted, as well as fields where wildflowers once drew tourists to this small desert community.

“We’re a small town, mostly low-income,” Ima Walker, an Ocotillo resident, told the Imperial Valley Press.  “I think they hit on these types of situations because they think we won’t retaliate or stand up.”

Opponents of the project have set up a  Facebook page to document the destruction in Ocotillo; view the website at  http://www.facebook.com/OcotilloWindTurbineDestruction.

View video of the protest:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kPZ7xsHo3M