Judge announces tentative ruling – before hearing arguments
By Sharon Penny
March 6, 2014 (San Diego)--On March 3, U.S. District Court Judge Janis L. Sammartino heard testimony from legal representatives for both sides in a lawsuit brought by the Protect Our Communities Foundation (POC – www.protectourcommunities.org) against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over controversial approvals for Iberdrola's controversial Tule Wind project planned in Boulevard’s McCain Valley Recreation and Conservation Area in East County.
The POC originally filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in August 2013. This week marked the first hearing under the U.S. District Court. According to Plaintiff Donna Tisdale, POC’s attorney Stephan C. Volker had prepared for a one hour argument and was surprised by the Judge’s announcement that she had a tentative ruling in hand. The judge read that ruling aloud, took a 15 minute break for attorneys to prepare a response. Each side was then allowed a half hour to argue their points and one minute for rebuttal.
By Miriam Raftery
February 28, 2014 (San Diego) – Opponents of the Tule Wind project in McCain Valley will have their day in court on Monday, March 3 in San Diego’s U.S. District Court. Then on April 25, a separate suit against the County over its wind energy ordinance and general plan amendment will also be heard.
The suits were filed by the Protect Our Communities Foundation and Donna Tisdale. Tisdale informed ECM that it's important to have many East County residents attend these trials.
February 4, 2014 (McCain Valley) – Charles and Laurie Baker sent in these surreal images taken while hiking in the Mica Gem and Table Mountain wilderness areas in McCain Valley, where winds and weathering have carved out fantastic rock formations in this rugged terrain.
January 23, 2014 (Carrizo Gorge) – Laurie Baker sent photos taken while hiking at the rugged Carrizo Gorge in McCain Valley, near the site of a planned industrial wind facility. Her images show the dramatic rock formations that make this area one of the most spectacular scenic vistas in San Diego's East County.
San Diego and Imperial County Eagles Are at Risk
January 5, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) -- In December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released its final decision to weaken a key rule that protects Bald and Golden Eagles, in order to more quickly develop renewable energy.
The Protect Our Communities Foundation (POC), a nonprofit community organization in San Diego’s East County, opposes this rule change stating it would harm eagles, has not been adequately studied, and violates federal law. Two local wind projects would be affected by the change.
“Eagles symbolize America’s national heritage and deserve more protection, not less. This rule change will make it harder to protect the remaining eagles that San Diegans love,” said Donna Tisdale, POC’s Secretary.
January 2, 2014 (McCain Valley) -- While hiking in McCain Valley north of Sacatone Road on New Year's Day, Laurie Baker and her husband encountered these two Peninsular Bighorn rams.
"What a pleasant surprise!" Baker exclaimed of her New Year's discovery -- an important sighting, since the draft environmental impact statement for Iberdrola Renewables' planned Tule Wind project in McCain Valley concludes that wind turbines aren "located outside of critical habitat areas and will not have any detrimental impacts on sheep."
Finding proof of the endangered animals doesn't assure their protection, however. When Pattern Energy's Ocotillo Express Wind Facility was approved, the project's environmental report similarly concluded that the site was not bighorn habitat. When photos of a flock of bighorn on the project site were sent to then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, he issued take permits allowing up to 10 bighorn ewes and lambs to be killed, allowing the project to proceed at the expense of this critically endangered species which is at risk of extinction, according to the Bighorn Institute.
By Miriam Raftery
March 9, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) –Industrial-scale energy projects on Bureau of Land Management lands are pushed through by energy companies touting jobs and economic booms to communities. Not mentioned is the potential loss of tourism revenues if people stop coming to recreational areas that are visually blighted. That’s been a fear voiced by residents near McCain Valley and Ocotillo, both scenic public recreation areas where wind projects are slated or recently completed.
Now preliminary data from the Bureau of Land Management reveals a 12% drop in the number of visitors to the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area over the past year. Sunrise Powerlink construction was completed in June 2012. Is the loss of 72,275 visitors due to the massive high voltage towers that dune buggies and other off-road enthusiasts now must dodge in the desert?
January 24, 2013 (McCain Valley) – Charles and Laurie Baker enjoy hiking in McCain Valley and the rugged Carrizo Gorge. They have submitted numerous photos of rocks containing large holes suitable for hawks and eagles to nest in, or perch on while scanning the valley below for prey. This is an area close to the proposed Tule Wind project, which the Bakers fear could harm a pair of golden eagles that they have recently seen while gazing across this hidden but spectacular landscape toward Lost Valley Rock.
Similar fate could await eagles in path of Iberdrola’s Tule Wind project in East County
By Miriam Raftery
January 20, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – Wildlife protection groups and residents have reacted in horror to the removal of an active bald eagle nest by a wind developer in Canada, an event documented on video January 5, just weeks after a photo of the active pair was taken at the site.
Now ECM has learned that the environmental documents filed by Iberdrola Renewables for its Tule Wind project in McCain Valley would allow SDG&E to “remove all existing raptor nests” prior to construction.
By Laurie Baker
December 4, 2012 (McCain Valley) -- This is a warning for those who escape to Cottonwood Campground in McCain Valley for a tranquil and refreshing experience to explore the Great Outdoors: Your days of enjoyment are numbered. Wind turbines will soon be invading the area just like the ones in Ocotillo. The Sunrise Powerlink already obliterates the natural beauty along parts of the 13-mile dirt road to the remote campground. Building 450-foot tall wind turbines a little more than 1,000 feet away from it will completely destroy its appeal altogether.
November 20, 2012 (Jacumba)--Cal-Fire will conduct a burn tomorrow, November 21 in McCain Valley near the community of Jacumba. The burn will be approximately 35 acres and smoke will be visible off Interstate 8 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
October 28, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – Construction of the Tule Wind project in McCain Valley has not yet begun, though developer Iberdrola has pledged to preserve the most scenic portion of views across the Carrizo Gorge. But photographer Tom Lemon stopped by McCain Valley’s famed Carrizo Gorge Overlook this weekend in McCain Valley, discovering to his dismay that wind turbines at Pattern Energy’s Ocotillo Express wind project in Ocotillo are plainly visible across the formerly pristine vista, gateway to three designated wilderness areas.
BLM rules do not allow the agency to consider lost views when determining siting of energy projects, unfortunately for the many who cherish wilderness.
Above is the new view, with turbines across the horizon:
Energia Sierra Juarez Substation and Cross-Border Transmission Lines Also Approved in East County
By Miriam Raftery
“This will impede firefighting efforts to a frightening degree…a wind-drive fire is not going to stay in the backcountry. We must not roll the dice…There are other, safer alternatives….I also have serious problems about an energy policy that depends on the stability of Mexico.” –Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who voted against both projects
“I’m opposed to green energy…I don’t think the Department of Energy should be putting subsidies in this….but the state has mandated renewable and we have to comply.” – Supevisor Bill Horn, who voted for both projects
August 9, 2012 (San Diego) – The irony was enormous. San Diego’s Board of Supervisors yesterday spent much of the morning debating whether cell phone towers five feet taller than current ones would mar community character on Mount Helix. In the afternoon, three of the five Supervisors then threw county height limits to the winds—voting to approve 500-foot-tall industrial wind turbines in scenic McCain Valley over the objections of numerous backcountry residents.
By a 4-0 vote, Supervisors also approved a power substation and cross-border transmission lines designed to bring power up from the massive Energia Sierra Juarez wind project proposed in Mexico.
By Miriam Raftery
August 2, 2012 (San Diego’s East County)—On Wednesday, August 8, San Diego County’s Board of Supervisors are expected to hold hearings on two controversial projects in East County. Supervisors will weigh whether to overturn a Planning Commission recommendation not to approve five industrial wind turbines on private land as part of the larger Tule Wind project in McCain Valley.
The Board is also expected to hear an appeal filed by residents asking Supervisors to reject the Planning Commission’s approval of the Energia Sierra Juarez cross-border Gen Tie (power lines) major use permit.
July 23, 2012 (McCain Valley) - ECM reader Tom Lemon sent in these spectacular photos of McCain Valley, site of the proposed Tule Wind facility in San Diego's East County.
"I first visited McCain Valley around 1995 after reading Jerry Shaad's book Afoot and Afield in San Diego County. I began camping and hiking in the Valley and explored the trails and side roads to vista points where you can see the abandoned San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railroad tracks, the Salton Sea, and Castle Butte in Arizona. Yes, you can see all the way to Arizona," he wrote.
"My friend Brian getting into the spirit of McCain. Yeah, it does make you feel like that."
By Miriam Raftery
July 20, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – Iberdrola Renewables wants to build an industrial wind turbine facility on 15,000 acres in East County’s McCain Valley.
What happens if neighbors complain of noise?
In Fairfield, New York, weary residents asked town officials to measure noise levels at Iberdrola’s Hardscrabble wind facility. The results found levels above the legal limit of 50 decibels. But instead of reducing the noise, Iberdrola gave noise generating machines to residents in hopes of drowning out the whooshing and whirling turbine sounds. Note: The machine is set at the lowest setting in this audio link.
July 19, 2012 (McCain Valley) – Tom Klimek of Lemon Grove shared these photos that he took of McCain Valley “as few have seen it,” blanketed in snow, isolated in its pristine beauty.
“On March 18, 2012 I drove to Laguna Mountain and then to McCain to enjoy the late winter storm that brought wind, rain, hail, and snow to the East County,” he wrote. “McCain Valley Road begins at about 3200 feet elevation and rises to 4500 feet near the end of the road. There were no tracks in the snow as me and my son drove all the way to Cottonwood camp.”
Canines identify dozens of sites in path of wind and power line projects
Wind developers “cooperate” with tribes on searches-- but SDG&E refuses to allow dogs on its ECO-Substation site
Story by Miriam Raftery
Photos by Tom and Nadin Abbott, Miriam Raftery, and Jim Pelley
July 18, 2012 (McCain Valley) – Weaving across cactus-studded terrain in McCain Valley, Piper, a border collie trained to find ancient human remains, pauses to sniff the ground. Ears erect, he sits, alerting handler Lynne Engelbert, who records the GPS coordinates. (Click video to view.) Minutes later, Piper’s find is independently confirmed by a second search dog.
By Miriam Raftery
June 9, 2012 (San Diego) – By a unanimous vote, San Diego's Planning Commission voted Friday to deny Iberdrola Renewables’ application for five 492-foot-tall wind turbines on private land under county jurisdiction.
The proposed turbines were part of the Tule Wind project, which also includes 62 turbines on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property in McCain Valley, seven turbines on state property, and 18 on Ewiiaapaayp tribal lands. To date, only the federal portion of the project has been approved.
“The Tule Wind decision was precedent setting in that turbines were denied on private land in the Boulevard area and the plan amendment was denied,” said Donna Tisdale, chair of the Boulevard Planning Group. “Today’s decision also bodes badly for Enel Green Power's Jewel Valley wind that is proposed for about 7,000 acres both north and south of I-8."
May 21, 2012 (Boulevard) – A medical helicopter is en route to an accident on I-8 east near State Route 94 in the Boulevard/McCain Valley area. Three victims are trapped with extrication in process, Incident Page Network Reports. A Sig Alert has been ordered, according to the CHP website.
A podcast tape is now available to listen, if you missed the show: http://www.windwiseradio.org/2012/05/fighting-for-feathered-friends-sun-52012-7pm-et/
May 20, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – Tonight from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, East County Magazine editor Miriam Raftery will be a guest on WindWise Radio. The network, which specializes in wind energy issues, broadcasts nationally via live-stream over the Internet.
Listen live at http://www.windwiseradio.org and call in with your questions and comments at (213)943-3683.
Today’s show will focus primarily in the impacts of industrial wind projects on wildlife and will include concerns raised for wildlife in the Ocotillo and McCain Valley areas, where massive wind projects have been approved by the Bureau of Land Management on public lands where wildlife protections have been severely eroded.
Staff recommends denial of Tule Wind turbines on County lands
By Miriam Raftery
May 21, 2012 (San Diego) – A decision on two controversial wind issues have been postponed by San Diego County’s Planning Commission.
A proposed wind ordinance as well as changes to the Boulevard community plan have been delayed until July 20. In addition, planners heard public comments on the Tule Wind project proposed for McCain Valley, but postponed a decision until June 8, due to the absence of two planners.
Without changes to the wind ordinance, any approval of industrial-scale turbines would violate county height requirements in rural areas. Thus approval of Tule Wind turbines on County lands June 9 appears unlikely.
By Miriam Raftery
April 15, 2012 (McCain Valley) –Winds of change are blowing in McCain Valley, where Iberdrola Renewables hopes to build the 200 megawatt (MW) Tule Wind energy facility that could power an estimated 60,000 homes.
On May 18, the County Planning Commission is slated to hear the project, with a hearing before the Board of Supervisors anticipated in June.
ADVOCATES OF ROOFTOP SOLAR RAISE VOICES IN PROTEST OVER INDUSTRIAL-SCALE DESERT SOLAR AND WIND PROJECTS
Story by Terry Weiner and Miriam Raftery
Videos by Jim Pelley
March 15, 2012 (Holtville)--Early Wednesday, rooftop solar activists and desert conservationists from Imperial Valley and San Diego County convened outside the Barbara Worth Resort—site of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation's three-day Renewable Energy Summit and Expo.
Protesters oppose tax credits going to giant energy companies and called for similar incentives to help property owners put solar on their roofs. They also objected to their viewpoint being excluded by conference coordinators. Participants voiced concerns over negative impacts of industrial-scale wind and solar projects. In some cases, wind turbines have been abandoned, left as rusting blights on the landscape. Other concerns include destruction of habitat for wildlife, noise, health impacts, loss of agricultural lands, and destruction of recreational areas on public lands.
How many massive energy projects are too many for one rural community to absorb?
“They want to put these all out here, because we’re throwaway country people.” – Howard Cook
By Mia Myklebust and Miriam Raftery
February 16, 2012 (Jacumba) – Walking along the shores of Lake Jacumba, it’s clear that Howard Cook has big dreams for his community. Chairman of the Lake Restoration Committee, he has wrested a pledge from the Audubon Society to restore the once-dry lake.
“We want to have fishing, boating, and recreation,” he says. Cook is working with others who dream of “making this another Taos—art, wildlife, hiking, Indians and birds.”
But there’s trouble on the horizon. Multiple industrial-scale wind and solar farms soon stand to surround this tiny town, jeopardizing its most cherished natural treasures. Sites include publicly owned recreation lands, notably a spectacular scenic gorge known to locals as “our Grand Canyon,” Cook points out.
Jacumba is a proverbial canary in the coal mine—a warning of what other publicly-owned preserves and rural communities across America may soon face.
By Miriam Raftery
February 3, 2012 (San Diego’s East County)—Last April, SDG&E said it removed a pilot for flying too close to eagle nests in El Monte Valley, after ECM documented the violation on video and sent it to state regulators. Now it’s happened again.SDG&E has admitted to at least three new incursions into no-fly zones around golden eagle nests in the Bell Bluff area near Alpine and in Thing Valley, near Mount Laguna.
The utility says it’s indefinitely suspended two pilots and is also holding two safety stand-downs. But some concerned residents fear that’s not enough to protect the eagles—and they want to see regulatory options increased.
January 16, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – Richard Bradley Smith, 61, was found dead this morning by San Diego Sheriff’s Search and Rescue volunteers. Smith had become separated from friends while fowl hunting in the McCain Valley area of Boulevard, near Cottonwood Campground. He resided in San Diego with his wife.
“Wind farms are the main cause. The issuing of license to kill will accelerate the decline toward extinction.”—Save the Eagles International
An East County Magazine Special Report
By Miriam Raftery
January 6, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – San Diego County’s 48 pairs of nesting golden eagles and even rarer bald eagles could be in peril if proposed industrial-scale wind farms are built. In a press release issued today, Save the Eagles International (STEI) issued a dire warning, providing detailed documentation proving that golden eagles and their nests are disappearing rapidly near wind farms across the U.S.
The group also blasted the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for changing its mission from protecting wildlife to “catering to the interests of an industry” that is a “ruinous one to boot.”
January 6, 2011 (McCain Valley) -- Charles and Laurie Baker sent in this birds-eye shot, taken from a rocky precipice while hiking in McCain Valley.
The scene encompasses portions of a site proposed for the Tule Wind Farm.
Local business leaders praise decision to expand renewable energy
Opponents hope Supervisors, court will protect scenic, cultural and wildlife resources
By Miriam Raftery
December 26, 2011 (McCain Valley) – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed approval December 20 forTule Wind Project on federal lands in McCain Valley in East County. The federal lands portion approved by the Department of the Interior constitute the bulk of the project, capable of generating up to 186 megawatts (MW) of the project’s total 200 MW capacity.
The project will need additional approvals from the County of San Diego, California Public Utilities Commission, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and California State Lands Commission. The County will hold hearings on a major use permit in the first quarter of 2012. Planning Commissioners and ultimately, the Board of Supervisors are expected to vote on the issue.