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Imperial County Protest Halts Work on Wind Project

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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.

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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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