East County News Service
January 9, 2016 (Boulevard) – Efforts to block the massive Rugged Solar project in Boulevard appear to have hit a dead end. On December 11th, Judge Wohlfeil confirmed his tentative ruling to dismiss a writ of mandate filed by Backcountry Against Dumps (BAD). The challenge claimed the project violated California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements on groundwater and fire issues, among others.
“BAD has chosen not to appeal based on a variety of issues and realities,” BAD founder Donna Tisdale told East County Magazine. Our attorney may never see the fee award ordered by Judge Wohlfeil, or a final decision could be strung out for years.”
Judge Wohlfeil’s December 15th order awarded over $500,000 in attorney fees to BAD’s attorneys at the law offices of Stephan C. Volker, over objections from Soitec and the County. The County and Soitec have 60 days to file an appeal.
Previously, a challenge by BAD was successful in forcing removal of large battery storage units from the project, which were added after public comment and environmental review had closed. The County Supervisors approved the project, with Supervisor Dianne Jacob voting against it.
Rugged Solar was one of four industrial-scale projects originally proposed by Soitec in the Boulevard area. Only two were ultimately permitted by the County: The Rugged Solar project on land owned by the Hamann Companies and related nonprofits at Rough Acres Ranch at the gateway to the McCain Valley federal recreation area, and Tierra Del Sol solar on land owned by Joe Brown and family. Soitec still holds permits and has reportedly been seeking buyers for the projects.
Tisdale voiced disappointed in the judge’s decision to allow Rugged Solar to move forward. “Our arguments that Soitec has exited the CPV solar business and sold off their local factory, negating claims of manufacturing job benefits in the Statement of Overriding Considerations, fell on deaf ears at the Board of Supervisor's hearing and in the court room. Over $35 million in state and federal tax-payer funding went to Soitec with basically one ugly and invasive CPV project in Borrego Springs and another in South Africa to show for it,” she said.
The Boulevard Planning Group minutes provide additional project / issue updates through December 3rd.