“I am persuaded that this project will not be built. It was conceived in secrecy ….sold with misleading information.” – Stephen Volker, attorney
Anonymous donor pledges to match donations for legal battle up to $20,000
June 24, 2010 (Alpine) – A standing-room-only crowd of around 700 people packed into the Alpine Community last night, where Supervisor Dianne Jacob and the Protect Our Communities Foundation convened a meeting for the public to provide input on SDG&E’s proposal to route Sunrise Powerlink through the Cleveland National Forest. No representatives were present from the U.S. Forest Service or SDG&E.
Many public officials and candidates for office came out in opposition to the project—while others were conspicuous by their absence or failure to take a stance.
The public has until June 29 to submit comments to Forest Supervisor William Metz. You may submit your comments online at firstname.lastname@example.org and include the subject line “Sunrise Powerlink Comments” or call to leave recorded comments at (858)673-6180.
“The BP oil spill has put a spotlight on federal regulators who permitted that deep water well. The same regulators that should have been closely monitoring threats to public safety were, instead, wining and dining with BP executives,” Jacob said. “In other words, the watchdogs were not watchdogs: they were lapdogs.” Jacob added that a similar scenario occurred with state regulators who approved Powerlink despite an environmental report and a judge that both recommended denial, warning of severe fire dangers that cannot be mitigated.
“These warnings in the EIR were no match for Sempra Energy’s political connections,” Jacob added, noting that Governor Schwarzenegger send a letter directing his political appointees on the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to approve the project. Four of the five Commissioners did so, approving the line “smack dab in the middle of the most fire-prone landscape on the planet,” said Jacob, who called Powerlink “the biggest injustice ever foisted on the people of San Diego County.”
Denis Traficanty, who just completed a 100-mile run through the backcountry to raise funds for the legal battle to halt Powerlink, said a donor has agreed to match donations of $100 per mile up to $20,000. He called Stephen Volker, the attorney hired for the fight, “the best of the best” noting his expertise in California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) litigation.
Volker expressed confidence that a judge will halt the project. “It was conceived in secrecy,” he said, adding that SDG&E sold the project to regulators based on “misleading information.”
Volker accused SDG&E of having a hidden agenda to import liquid natural gas from Mexico and that the company refused to guarantee that any power carried by the high-voltage line would be from renewable energy resources. “Don’t be fooled,” he said. “It has none.”
He also said regulators were not told about numerous impacts on wildlife or the fact that more than 100 cultural sites will be impacted by the line. “The CPUC and the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) had no inkling of those impacts,” he said. Volker also suggested that the utility company had misstated the impact on hydrological and other resources, as well as the potential for the line to ignite or exacerbate catastrophic wildfires.
Firefighters would not be able to fight fires by air or on the ground within 1,000 feet of the lines, many fire experts have said. But Cal-Fire officials have been mum on the issue, leading Jacob to state that “good and credible firefighters have been silenced by the politics of the decision. I know this because they’ve made contact with my office.”
Steve Whitburn, candidate for Supervisor in the central San Diego’s fourth district, said the majority of people in his district oppose Powerlink. “My opponent, Ron Roberts, supports it,” he observed. “We should be increasing our ability to fight fires—not to start fires.” Whitburn said he opposes Powerlink because of the fire risk as well as the environmental damage that the line will cause.
All three candidates for the 52nd Congressional District have voiced concerns over Powerlink through Cleveland National Forest. Congressman Duncan D. Hunter (R-El Cajon), in a letter to Metz, said he believes becoming energy independent would “substantially increase our national security” but that “The Sunrise Powerlink is by no means the only available option in our efforts to pursue alternative energy for San Diego County.” He cited nuclear energy and solar as viable alternatives to consider. Hunter cited concerns over fire safety, insurance costs to homeowners and habitat impacts, concluding that “this route is completely unnecessary.”
Ray Lutz, the Democratic candidate running against Hunter, called Powerlink a “dirty deal” and suggested that opponents may need to “chain ourselves to the tractors” if legal means don’t halt the project, drawing applause. “SDG&E tried to kick me out last time,” he said, referring to his efforts to videotape a recent public meeting on Powerlink. “I said you’ll have to arrest me, so they let me film.”
Michael Benoit, the Libertarian candidate in the 52nd Congressional district, also voiced opposition to Powerlink. “I’m proud of all of you for standing up for your rights,” he told the crowd.
A representative of Congressman Bob Filner (D-Chula Vista) reiterated Filner’s opposition to Sunrise Powerlink, which the Congressman has dubbed “Desert Deathlink.” Filner has sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging that that David Hayes, deputy secretary of the Interior Department, be removed from any decision-making involving Powerlink since Hayes is a former lobbyist for SDG&E.
Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon), who is running for the 36th State Senate District, did not attend but sent a representative. Asked Anderson’s position on Powerlink, the aide replied, “He doesn’t have a stance.” Anderson was recently fined $20,000 by the Fair Political Practices Commission for accepting campaign contributions over the legal limits from five contributors—including SDG&E.
Anderson’s opponent, teacher Paul Clay, did not attend last night’s meeting but has stated publicly that he opposes Powerlink. Assembly candidate Mark Hanson, who lost his Lakeside home in the Cedar Fire, was also unable to attend due to a schedule conflict. Hanson opposes the proposed Powerlink route through the Cleveland National Forest and other fire-prone communities, such as Alpine and Lakeside.
Bill Powers, Protect Our Communities board member, gave a presentation on rooftop solar, which he called a “more cost effective” way for our region to produce power than Sunrise Powerlink. “Germany is the same size as California,” he said, noting that Germany invested in installing 4,000 megawatts (MW) of rooftop solar in one year, paying to put panels on homes and businesses. California’s peak electrical load ever is about that same amount of power, he observed, adding, “There is no trauma to put solar on your roof top. Obviously, we can do without Powerlink.”
He noted that last week, gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown announced an energy policy that includes “predominantly distributed energy and a big part of that is rooftop solar….Word is moving up.”
Jacob called for the $1.9 billion Powerlink construction budget to be spent on rooftop solar instead.
Donna Tisdale, Boulevard Planning Group Chair, gave an update on a federal lawsuit also filed over Powerlink approval by the BLM. She noted that some homes in the backcountry will have powerlines on multiple sides and be imperiled because firefighters could not fight fires within 1,000 foot buffer zones.
The President of the Alpine Fire Safe Council recalled the Viejas and Laguna Fires which came close to burning the community, in one case stopped by water drops made from Palo Verde Lake. Powerlink would be built within 1,000 feet of the lake’s edge, impeding the ability of aircraft to obtain water for fighting fires, he said.
A Santee woman testified that she has observed bald eagles recently in areas of Cleveland National Forest where Powerlink would go. She urged protection of their habitat.
Billy Ortiz from El Cajon said he has videotaped bald eagles at the San Vicente Reservoir on a recent hike. He delivered a pointed message to Metz: “Shame on you if you let the Sunrise Powerlink go through our backyard.”
An Alpine man recalled the Cedar Fire, which came within 100 feet of his home. “It’s a terrifying thing when you look up and see those huge flames coming,” he said. “These fires can affect the whole County.”
Carol Morrison, president of the Alpine Historical Society, said her 120 members all oppose Powerlink, concerned over the impact on businesses and property values. “The nice community we all know and share will no longer exist,” she lamented.
Janell House of Alpine voiced concerns over expansion of the Japatul substation. “It’s 8.8 NFL football fields all the way around, one-half square mile,” she said, noting that power from the project is slated for Los Angeles, not our area.
Diana Lindsey of El Cajon, a publisher of natural history guide books, said Powerlink through the national forest should be rejected on the same grounds it was rejected through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Jamul resident Shannon Davis said homeowners in her area who lost their homes once to fire may lose them again through eminent domain to make way for Powerlink. The area abuts a federal energy corridor – a swatch 3,500 fee wide. She read off a list of endangered or threatened species including butterflies, toads, birds and eagles.
George Barnett with the Alpine Planning Commission noted that three other routes for Powerlink could be constructed primarily on industrial land with far less harm to communities and the environment.
A man from Japatul Valley who relies on well water expressed concerns over how SG&E would obtain water needed to build the project. He wondered whether SDG&E might inject toxics to make marginal wells produce more. “It keeps me awake now,” added the landowner, who said he has produced all of his own power off-grid for many years.
“We’ve seen what happens when shortcuts are taken with BP,” said Laura Cyphert , cofounder of the East County Community Action Coalition. “SDG&E has taken many shortcuts.” She read off an “SDG&E rap sheet” listing fines paid by the utility company for offenses ranging from Enron-style market manipulation to causing wildfires in our region. “SDG&E has a habit of breaking laws,” she concluded. “Please don’t compromise or amend the Forest Service plan.”
Some speakers urged Metz to resist pressures to approve the project, citing their own experiences losing jobs but retainint their self-respect by standing up for what they believed was right. One speaker, who once lost a job for taking an ethical stance, advised Metz that "if people die or people are burned from a fire caused by Powerlink, their blood will be on your hands."
Among the most moving testimony came from a man who was stationed in Kuwait when he saw a CNN TV report of a major wildfire in Alpine. He recalled feeling fearful and powerless, unable to reach his family.
“You are the sole person who can do something to help our homes, our families, and protect our forests, Mr. Metz,” he concluded, echoing the sentiments of thousands of area residents who have voiced opposition to Sunrise Powerlink. “You can either be remembered as the man who was brave enough to stand up and stop things thing, or as a man who fell in line with a bunch of other corrupt politicians.”