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Pattern has created an “imminent harm to public safety”, suit alleges

By Miriam Raftery

August 14, 2012 (Ocotillo) – The U.S. District Court in San Diego will hear a case filed by a group of Ocotillo residents, Community Advocates for Renewable Energy Stewardship [CARES] requesting a temporary restraining order to shut down construction on Pattern Energy’s Ocotillo Express wind project.

According to the suit, a Pattern Energy employee filed a declaration revealing that Pattern never engineered or submitted final grading plans. The wind developer claimed “very little actual grading” while in fact grading 149 acres of underground trenches, 286 acrsd of turbine pads and 42 miles of roads, some three times as wide as the project approvals allowed. 

Plaintiffs allege that Pattern and the Bureau of Land Management “have created an imminent harm to public safety by approving the installation of the cheapest and weakest type of wind turbine foundation…without geotechnical or structural engineering to ensure compliance with State and Federal standards.”

The inverse tee Shallow Foundations chosen are only suitable in rock or high-strength soils, plaintiffs allege.  “There is no indication a two to eight foot Shallow Foundation will support a 439-foot wind turbine sited in desert sand washes prone to floods and earthquakes,” the suit contends.  An ECM report has previously raised serious seismic safety issues about the project which Pattern Energy refused to answer. 

CARES  indicates that aerial photographs and GPS documentation further reveal that Pattern has disturbed 65% of the ground that it claimed it would disturb for the entire project, yet has dug 30% of the turbine pads thus far.  Roads approved as country lanes in width are “wider than five lane freeway.”

“This is all the product of a project without a plan,” the suit concludes adding that project-specific plans were never submitted with the environmental review, including final grading plans and engineering designs related to turbine foundations.  “The foundations are central to public safety in an area that continues with multiple-use for campers, off-roaders, hikers, tribal events, shooting  and other recreation.”

Approval of the project by the BLM was illegal without geotechnical and structural engineering designs that were site specific, plaintiffs state, noting that the project is in a low-lying desert basin subjet to a 100-year FEMA flood classification and is also within an active earthquake zone.    In addition, turbine rows are too close together under the Right-of-Way granted, with 14 of 36 turbine pads out of compliance.  Turbines are supposed to be spaced 2,834 fet apart, but some are  as close as 1,758 feet, according to the suit. 

The suit also blames Pattern for a July 13,2012 flood due to blocking an access road with a berm that acted like a dam, diverted water into a torrent of water and mud  through the town of Ocotillo. 

Plaintiffs contend that irreparable harm has occurred and that an injunction is necessary to protect human life, public safety and environmental injury.  Already permanent harm has been done to desert habitat by illegal activities, the suit adds.  

The lawsuit is one of at least five filed by numerous organizations seeking to halt the project.

The litigation is impacting developer Pattern Energy’s ability to secure financing for the project.

BECC (Border Environmental Cooperation Commission ) and NADB (North American Development Bank) believe that the judicial system is the appropriate venue for resolution of opposing claims regarding the project,” Renata Manning, BECC Projects Director told ECM.  “Accordingly BECC and NADB will be awaiting further judicial action on the issues in dispute before making any determination regarding certification and financing of the Ocotillo project.”



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