By Miriam Raftery
November 12, 2012 (Boulevard)—At the latest Boulevard Planning Group meeting, community members including Native Americans shared heart-wrenching stories of how the nation's quest for renewable energy is upending their lives, dividing their communities,imperiling their health, and threatening their futures.
As in Ocotillo, where a wind project has anguished tribal members and residents with destruction of cultural and environmental resources, the community of Boulevard now faces an onslaught of massive "green" energy projects on public, tribal and private lands.
Area residents described bizarre wildlife behavior that they attribute to infrasound and stray voltage, including “crazed” coyotes climbing trees. A planner said she was forced to move out of her home due to illness she attributes to wind turbines. Two Manzanita Indians voiced fears over serious illnesses and the future of their reservation due to stray voltage from turbines on the nearby Campo reservation.
Now SDG&E is negotiating to build a new wind project atop a ridge on the Manzanita reservation. The tribal members who spoke fear that could lead to relocation off tribal lands and say such an offer has been discussed, though a tribal council member and SDG&E both denied that allegation.
A man and woman who live on the Manzanita Native American reservation testified to the anguish of tribal members who are suffering from serious health problems.
“We have an epidemic,” a woman tribal member said, adding that she believes cases of brain cancer and stomach cancer are due to stray electrical voltage from the Kumeyaay wind turbines on the Campo reservation and high voltage power lines nearby.
The woman, a tribal member, claimed that “SDG&E has been working to take away our land.” She said that a tribal council member recently asked members, “How would we like to be relocated?” adding, “Some of our people think we may as well take the deal and go.”
The man from Manzanita shared those concerns. “We don’t know how to live anywhere else. This is our homeland,” he said. “SDG&E came to our tribe and proposed huge amounts of money if we will lease them our land….They are giving us the hugest scare tactic—telling us how terrible these wind turbines are, detrimental to human health and animals—every living thing. They’re telling us `If you stay here, you’re gonna fry.”
The two tribal members who spoke asked that their names not be published. They speak as individuals, not on behalf of their tribe, and they are fearful of retaliation. Potentially, that could include disenrollment. In California, some 2,500 Indians have been disenrolled from tribes in the last decade, the New York Times reported in 2011; many cases involved family feuds, though ostensibly most ousters were made over inauthentic bloodline claims.
Angela Santos, a Manzanita tribal council member who also sits on the Manzanita Economic Devleopment Corporation (MEDCO) and is the daughter of tribal chairman Leroy Elliott, vigorously denied that the tribal council has entertained any relocation offer.
“The tribe has an agreement with SDG&E. We are evaluating our wind resources,” Santos told ECM, adding that wind evaluations date back even before the current tribal administration, which has been in power for 14 years. “The tribe’s trying to what is in the best interest of the people,” she said, adding that she can’t discuss details of the negotiation.
But she made clear, “SDG&E is not telling us that there is danger in this project…SDG&E is not forcing us to move.” Santos stated adamantly, “The tribe is not being forced, pressured, asked or invited to relocate. Our people have survived for thousands of years and we’re not going anywhere.”
The project would be built atop a ridgeline and if approved, would require relocation of some buildings within the reservation. jpwever.
Santos noted that her tribe has been through hard times in the past. “My father recalls when they were taking all the children off the reservation andt eh kids were sent to Sherman Indian School in Riverside. Their hair was cut, they were treated for bugs; as Indian people we are struggling to keep their traditions alive…We realize we have to walk in these two worlds, but we still are trying to keep our values and traditions that are important to us strong.”
Thus she stated, “We are taking the project seriously and doing what any govenrment would do, which is to assess all aspects of the project, including the health and welfare of our people.” Noting that the tribal lands show promise as wind resources, she mad clear that the tribe wants to do its part to support renewable energy, but must balance that goal against the other factors.
Asked about the Manzanita situation, SDG&E senior communications officer Jennifer Ramp confirmed, “In 2009, SDG&E and the Manzanita Tribe entered into an agreement to explore the mutual development of a wind project on Manzanita Tribal lands. We hope to reach an agreement that will provide suitable rewards to the tribe for hosting the wind farm, and at a cost to SDG&E’s ratepayers that is both reasonable and competitive.” An earlier feasibility study for wind on the Manzanita reservation was completed back in 2003 by SeaWest under a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, ECM has found.
But Ramp said that SDG&E “categorically denies” allegations raised by the tribal members who spoke with ECM and testified in Boulevard.
“First, at no time has SDG&E requested the Manzanita Tribe or any other Native American citizens to vacate their land to facilitate the development of renewable energy,” Ramp stated in an email sent to ECM on November 5, 2012. “Second, at no time has SDG&E warned the tribe of serious health hazards or toxins associated with wind or power line projects proposed for their land and/or adjacent areas. And third, SDG&E does not operate any facilities on Manzanita Tribal lands that might induce high voltage levels.”
Ramp insisted that SDG&E has been “a steward of environmental leadership,” adding, “ We have developed and will continue to support the development of energy related projects that take into consideration all environmental issues.”
According to the tribal members who spoke with ECM at the Boulevard Planning Group meeting, SDG&E wants to put 40 to 60 wind turbines atop a ridgeline that would produce 50 to 100 megawatts of power.
Santos said there are about 100 tribal members enrolled, though not all live on the reservation. Of those, many are suffering serious health problems, multiple sources have confirmed.
“The tribe is not happy about this whole energy development in the area,” Santos acknowledged. “It seems like it’s going to industrialize our mountain community.” In addition to health and environmental concerns, she noted, “ur artifacts are being affected.” She voiced frustration that not even multiple tribes banding together could stop the Ocotillo Express Wind project, which is being built atop sacred Native American sites and burial grounds.
Some Manzanita Indians on the reservation are already seriously ill—and many believe that stray voltage from the nearby Kumeyaay wind turbines on the Campo reservation are the cause. Santos also acknowledged that some tribal members have serious health problems and that a university health study now underway of tribal members will be completed soon. As a result, she noted, “We haven’t had any conversations with Campo…we have not written to them or made any official contact to them at all over these issues.”
If doctors confirm that the cancer cluster or other symptoms are caused by wind turbines, however, the tribal council and chairman would need to weigh that evidence and potentially ask the Campo tribe to reduce or eliminate the stray voltage.
A vote of all voting members (tribal members over age 18) would be required to approve any lease agreement with SDG&E, she added.
“We’re in shock,” the woman from Manzanita said at the Boulevard meeting. “EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies) cause cancer. They’re toxic.” She said a large turbine is near her home, and she believes trees on the reservation that have died may be victims of stray voltage, too. “I have a continuous headache all the time – pressure sitting on my brain….Sometimes my stomach is starting to hurt.” She added, “The coyotes are going stark raving crazy. They scream at night.”
Melody Ponchot, a member of the Boulevard Planning Group, confirmed that she, too, has heard coyotes “screaming at night. They hear lower frequencies than we do.”
Other area residents have had health problems, not limited to the reservation. One of those is Ponchot.
The planning group member survived a brain injury and coma years ago and recovered. But after living near the Campo wind turbines, she suffered health problems so serious that she was forced to move out of her rented home.
“I was sick, in bed,” she said, adding that she also had spinal column pain. Many of her symptoms improved after she moved out, she added. She also noted that wildlife is fleeing the area. “There are hardly any hawks or owls left,” said Ponchot.
An audience member, Marie Morgan, said she has also witnessed bizarre coyote behavior since Sunrise Powerlink went in a couple of miles away, including a coyote climbing her cottonwood tree on Ribbonwood Road at night.
Donna Tisdale, chair of the BPG, offered a theory on the cause, noting that stray voltage in the ground elsewhere has caused “dancing cows” as livestock struggles to escape the pain caused by electricity surging through their bodies. “I went to a national EMF conference,” she explained. “Your DNA acts as an antenna; EMFs can break your DNA…it can harm children, and it can cause birth defects.”
After receiving conflicting comments from members on the Manzanita reservation, ECM asked Tisdale if she has heard about potential relocation of tribal members from any other sources.
“I have heard the same information from several sources, including two non-tribal sources close to the tribal council,” Tisdale said. She voiced empathy for those living near turbines, noting, “Brain fog and confusion are two of many symptoms of severe sleep disruption and exposure to low frequency noise and electrical pollution.” Those who testified at the hearing, she noted, “are being bombarbed on a daily basis with basically toxic levels of noise and electrical pollution. In my opinion, it is killing them slowly and painfully.”
She vowed, “I’m going to do everything I can to stop this. It’s a travesty to take away Native American land, to take everything they have in the name of green energy.”
Approximately sixty members of theManzanita tribe have been accepted into a California State Marcos health study. They have asked County Supervisors to delay voting n a controversial wind ordinance on December 5 and postpone until after their health study is completed.
Tisdale has asked Wilma Wooten, the County’s public health director, to revise a health report that ECM has previously labeled a “whitewash” for its claim that there is no evidence that wind turbines cause any negative health impacts. The study failed to mention the Manzanita Indians concerns right here in San Diego County and similarly omitted facts about many other places in the U.S. and worldwide where clusters of similar health problems have occurred near wind turbines.
ECM asked the County if Wooten will consider revising her report to include the Manzanita Indians’ health issues. But County spokesman Michael Workman responded, “No amendment is planned at this time. The statement is based on facts and evidence. There is currently no evidence to support health side effects.”
Stray voltage—ground current-- inside the Manzanita tribal hall, church and homes has been measured at 1,000 times higher than normal by Dr. Samuel Milham, an epidemiologist who has authored over 100 peer-reviewed studies as well as the book Dirty Energy. View chart of the electricity levels found.
In evidence submitted to the San Diego County Planning Commission, Milham warned of harmful impacts of the stray voltage measured in the Manzanita tribal hall and other buildings. Milham stated, “People on the reservation can’t protect themselves, even with filters, because it’s everywhere outside.”
Milham concluded that the levels are dangerous and coming from the Kumeyaay Wind turbines on the nearby Campo reservation.
Jeff Riolo, a consultant to the Manzanita tribe, testified before the Imperial Valley Planning Commission earlier this year about the impacts of wind turbines on tribal members. “We have suffered,” he said. “Our children have higher attention deficit disorder rates.” He also cited sleep disorders, cancer and other conditions some believe are related to living in the shadow of wind turbines.
In an impassioned plea to the County Dept. of Land Use and Planning, Manzanita Tribal Chairman Leroy Elliott earlier this year implored planners to postpone a decision on the wind ordinance until after a health impact assessment study at California State University San Marcos on the tribe’s members is completed several months from now.
Proposed wind projects “will entrap Manzanita on our north and east borders,” Elliott wrote. “This combined with the existing commercially operational project along our southern border will create a cumulative effect that most likely tenders our residential reservation land uninhabitable. We have been on these lands for thousands of years and we the Kumeyaay are the original stewards of San Diego County.” Planners ignored the Chairman’s letter and approved a draft wind ordinance, which Supervisors are set to consider December 5.
Instead of correcting health hazards allegedly caused by their turbines, the Campo tribe is seeking to triple the size of its wind resources by building Shu’luuk Wind, with turbines twice as high.
That’s not all. Mazanita and the Boulevard area face an onslaught of other big energy projects with a cumulative impact that residents fear.
Tule Wind, approved by the federal and county governments, is slated to be built soon in nearby McCain Valley, meaning more wind turbines as well as new power lines. Sunrise Powerlink, recently completed, has sent high voltage pulsing through lines that are also close to homes in the area, raising serious concerns for Manzanita Indians as well as non-Native American residents in Boulevard, Campo, Jacumba, and other rural communities. Yet another wind farm is proposed for Jewel Valley south of Boulevard, and there are rumors that the La Posta tribe may consider leasing land for turbines now that its casino has closed.
Asked if tribal members are considering legal action, the Manzanita man told ECM, “I feel that’s the next step.” He noted that Supervisors approved turbines on Rough Acres ranch in McCain Valley as part of Tule Wind, ignoring tribal concerns.
Tisdale revealed that a lawsuit seeking to stop Tule Wind will soon be filed. She added, “I believe the Manzanita Indians have excellent cause for damages.”
She cited a recent lawsuit over Iberdrola’s Hardscrabble wind project in Fairfield, New York, where “they are going after the acoustical engineer” because turbines violate noise restrictions. “There are problems with animals, livestock not producing –they are dumping energy into the ground at these projects,” she noted, regarding Fairfield. “Electricity can go through water pipes and into homes through transmission lines. … People are basically living in a microwave.”
Billie Jo Jannen, a seasoned reporter in the audience, chimed in. “We’re getting them in Campo. They’re fleeing here.”
A man on the planning group board noted that he and his wife “got photos of a golden eagle on a telephone pole” in an area where a wind developer claims there are no eagles. He voiced concern that “65 golden eagles a year are being killed at Altamont, even worse than they thought.”
Tisdale expressed worries over the fire dangers posed by so many turbines, each of which contain 200 gallons or more of flammable lubricating oil. Retired Cal Fire Battalion Chief Mark Ostrander and others have warned that firefighters won’t be able to fight fires beneath whirling turbines, nor can planes drop fire retardant overhead due to the height of turbines around 500 tall (retardants work best at 150 feet).
“We just lost 2,500 acres in my community and 11 homes burned,” Tisdale said of the Shockey Fire, which occurred not during Santa Ana winds, but during relatlvely low wind speeds. “Every firefighter I talked to about what they want to do out here, all these turbines, said `Oh my God, I wouldn’t want any more high-ignition projects out here.’”
All present who spoke voiced grave concerns over county plans that have designated this region as “industrial complex-East County” with seemingly little or no regard for the health and safety of area residents. A notable exception is Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who has been outspoken in her concerns about the turbines and voted “no” on Tule Wind.
The man from Manzanita voiced concern over his children and grandchildren—future generations of his tribe. Despite denials, he is angered at some in the tribal leadership who he believes may be considering taking an offer from SDG&E to escape the potential dangers and leave the reservation forever.
“We should stay and fight for these lands,” he said. “We’re connected to all things that hold the spirit here.”
He voiced concerns that leasing or selling out would set a bad precedent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “The Department of the Interior could say this land no longer needs to be held in trust, and terminate the reservation.”
Tisdale voiced anger at SDG&E for denying negative health impacts to community residents. “For them to perpetuate the problem is negligence and fraud,” Tisdale said.
The Manzanita man voiced solidarity with fellow tribal members and with the braoder community. “The best thing would be to stand up and fight and say `No way.’ We need to save our homelands—and our neighbors’ homelands.”