By Miriam Raftery
December 5, 2020 (Campo) – The Federal Aviation Administration has reversed its earlier approval of the controversial Campo Wind project and related Boulder Brush Facilities.The project would erect 60 wind turbines, each 586 feet tall, on tribal land close to tribal and non-tribal homes in rural East County. (image, left)
In its remand letter dated Dec. 2, the FAA admitted to errors in its aeronautical study proceess.
The action comes in response to a petition for review raised by the nonprofit Backcountry Against Dumps along with Boulevard residents Ed and Donna Tisdale, whose property shares a half-mile border with the project site on the Campo Indian reservation.
“Attorneys for our non-profit, Backcountry Against Dumps (“Backcountry”), informed us yesterday that the FAA GRANTED our Petition for Review and vacated its previous approval of the Campo Wind Project,” Tisdale told ECM in an email Dec. 4. “This means the Campo Wind Project cannot be built unless and until the FAA issues a new approval. But before it may do that, the FAA must correct its errors, conduct further reviews, circulate a new decision for public review, and, if the new decision is to approve the project, afford us a further opportunity to petition for review.”
The action comes after attorneys for BAD and the Tisdales filed an objection with the FAA seeking review of its July 16 determination that the project would cause no hazard to air navigation. Their filing asserts that “evidence before the FAA shows that each of the Project’s wind turbines will create significant hazards to air navigation” which must be addressed to resolve “serious safety concerns.”
The filing includes documentation of at least 10 deaths in the U.S. due to aircraft colliding with wind turbines or meteorological towers at wind project sites. It notes that the project is located in the flight path used by both military and general aviation pilots who regularly fly between airports in the region. The Backcountry group contends that the project “is regularly frequented by their low flying aircraft” and included several photos taken from the Tisdale ranch showing aircraft at low elevations directly over the project site. (Photo, right)
Lighting proposed is inadequate to protect pilots and passengers, since lights would only be required on a tower’s nacelle, however each blade would sweep 230 feet above that – the equivalent to having “a 20-story-building rotating at fast speeds around the nacelle.” Turbulence from wind turbines could also pose hazards to aircraft, the Backcountry group contends, adding that radar accuracy could also be impeded.
Since firefighting aircraft are allowed to fly below 500 feet, the 586 tall wind turbines would also interfere with firefighting aircraft in the highly fire-prone region; indeed prior wildfires have occurred on and adjacent to the Tisdales’ ranch. Moreover, “The Project itself will introduce myriad new wildfire ignition sources,” the document points out, noting that high voltage wind turbines have a history of erupting into flames when motors burn or short out or bearings wear out – as has already occurred several times in our region, including at existing smaller turbines on the Campo reservation. (photo, right: wind turbine explosion at earlier Campo Wind project caused a brush fire that threatened nearby homes.)
Adding a new substation and power lines would further increase risk of wildfires in our region that has already had devastating fires caused by power line ignitions and where residents are regularly subjected to power outages imposed by SDG&E to prevent power line fires.
Backcountry’s filing also notes that the FAA failed to address the cumulative effect of other wind projects and other energy projects built or proposed in the area.
The project has been a subject of intense contention within the Campo Tribe. Although the tribal council approved the project, a petition gathered enough signatures of tribal members to force a vote to undo the approval, as ECM previously reported. However the tribal chair refused to allow that vote to occur and also quashed a petition to remove the chair. complaints to the Bureau of Indian Affairs contend that tribal laws were violated. Many have voiced concerns that noise likened to the roar of 60 jet engines, infrasound, blade flicker shadow and other impacts of the massive turbines very close to homes could make the homes unlivable, but since the houses are owned by the tribe, individual members lack financial resources to relocate.
Tribal member Denis Largo, a Navy veteran who delivered the petition to the tribal chairman, told ECM at the time,” “Our reservation is in dire financial condition. We have really nothing to give our youth, nothing to pass down. All we have are false promises. These windmills are supposed to bring us some glimmer of hope, but all they’ve brought us are despair.” (photo, right)
“It is also my understanding that some Campo tribal members are still fighting to stop Campo Wind that was approved in an unlawful manner that violated their rights and their own constitution,” says Tisdale.
The nonprofit Backcountry Against Dumps recently cancelled its wind turbine health study curtailed due to the pandemic. “Our non-profit has cancelled the wind turbine health study that was curtailed due to the pandemic. Instead, we are directing our limited funds to our federal lawsuit against federal approval of Campo Wind and potential lawsuit when the County Board of Supervisors approve the related Boulder Brush Substation,” says Tisdale.
People who wish to donate to help support the legal challenge can mail a check to Backcountry Against Dumps, P.O. Box 1275, Boulevard, CA 91905 or click here to make an online donation.
Find more information on how San Diego’s rural East County is being further targeted for industrial wind and solar projects with the Renewable Energy Overlay Zone: https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/sdc/pds/advance/renewableenergyoverlay.htm
You can send a brief email message stating your views on the project to Don Chase at PDS.AdvancePlanning@sdcounty.ca.gov and may also wish to contact newly elected Supervisor Joel Anderson as soon as he takes office.