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Imperial County Protest Halts Work on Wind Project

Quechan elder and singer Preston Arrow-Weed at the Ocotillo Express Wind construction site | Photo: Courtesy Terry Weiner

A demonstration against the Ocotillo Express Wind project attracted over 50 people to the Imperial County hamlet of Ocotillo Saturday morning, according to organizers. The presence of the demonstrators prompted the developer to halt construction work for the day.

The Ocotillo Express Wind project, astride the county line between Imperial and San Diego counties near the Mexican Border, would site 112 large turbines on more than 12,000 acres of land adjacent to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

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The 315-megawatt project has attracted fierce opposition from environmental, Native, and neighborhood groups, and is the subject of three separate lawsuits seeking to halt the project. Among objections to the project are its feared effects on local Peninsular bighorn sheep and flat-tailed horned lizards, the air quality in (what has been) the quiet little town of Ocotillo, and -- perhaps most importantly from a legal standpoint -- damage to the abundant Native cultural sites in the Yuha Desert and adjacent areas.

"Non-native people put their history in books. Our ancestors put their history on the ground and in the rocks, in the geoglyphs and in the petroglyphs, in the places where we live," said Anthony Pico, Chairman of the Viejas Tribe of Kumeyaay Indians. "Destruction of this record is irreparable and it takes part of our lives."

According to organizers of the Saturday event, more than 50 people arrived early in the morning from the neighborhood, as well as from places as distant as Los Angeles and the Morongo Basin. They arrived to find that project developer Pattern Energy had reacted to advance news of the protest by telling their contractors to take the day off.

Demonstrators at the Ocotillo Express Wind construction site in Ocotillo | Photo: Tom Budlong

The Quechan Tribe, neighbors of the Kumeyaay, are among the parties that have sued to stop the project. The Quechan were denied a preliminary injunction to halt construction in May. They object to construction proceeding on sensitive cultural areas, including cremation sites.

Neighbors also complain about wind-blown dust coming off the project site, and say that their quality of life has already been severely affected. Some residents say that Pattern has bulldozed roads into the desert that are significantly wider than described in the project's environmental assessment documents. "The Ocotillo Wind Project is destroying my lifetime dream to settle permanently with my family in this beautiful place," added Ocotillo resident Jim Pelley. "My wife and I have worked for years to make our home here and now we find ourselves in an ugly, noisy, dusty industrial nightmare."

Organizers say they are planning future actions with larger turnout.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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As per the usual. The CA government thinks it can exempt itself and favored developers from the law. NAGPRA requires native grave sites to be assessed with special consideration. NEPA and CEQA require due diligence and an environmental review with a period of public comment. Due diligence is poorly defined, but generally accepted to be an archaeological records search to assess the probability of encountering human remains and grave goods, and test excavations to look for a site with potential to learn something of theoretical or cultural importance. And here is the rub. Time and time again, developers make all their plans, grease all the palms and don't do any sort of investigation until it is too costly to change the plans. They never learn, and they are not made to because what they have done historically has worked just fine for them. There is a wrong assumption that people who want the law followed in the spirit of environmental protection and cultural conservation, don't want projects to succeed and that is not so. We just want the law followed. When a project is still being dreamt up; when the land had not yet been purchased; or before the engineers have signed off - that is the time to figure out how what you are doing will impact the people, biodiversity, the environment and prehistoric sites. And developers won't do it properly until they start loosing money for doing it wrong. The CA government is just as bad. Once they get a bee in their bonnet about a certain project, and it becomes a political sticking point for them, they exempt themselves from the laws they claim to expect others to be compliant with. Disgusting.

These review processes are a needed feature of CA development. They are not some nuisance to be overcome with cronyism and corruption. That doesn't mean we don't want a project like this to happen somewhere near here. But look at what happened to the CA golden eagles in the last nightmare project, the DWP wind farm. These things are avoidable, even airplane pilots know to navigate around breeding grounds for birds that fly at high altitude, like condors. And *now*, that moving the plant is no longer an option, the engineers are scrambling to make it work, when they could have just done properly it before.