May 27, 2012 (Ocotillo) –The Protect Our Communities Foundation, Backcountry Against Dumps, and Donna Tisdale of Boulevard are suing the Imperial County Board of Supervisors and Pattern Energy.
The lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court in Imperial County, seeks to halt construction of the Ocotillo Express wind facility. Plaintiffs allege that Supervisors’ approval violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and that the Final Environmental Impact Report failed to analyze off-site or distributed generation alternatives such as rooftop solar.
Two other suits have been filed by the Quechan Indians and Desert Protective Council, both citing destruction of cultural and natural resources as a key issue. The latest legal action goes farther, also citing threats to the health and welfare of residents, among other serious impacts.
It also addresses the project's violation of views from surrounding protected areas including Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the Jacumba Wilderness Area, Yuha Basin Area of Critical Environmental Concern, Plaster City Off-Highway Vehicle Open Area, and Coyote Mountain Wilderness. The suit points out that the project would be visible and audible from these areas, harming the scenic, recreational and wilderness resources.
“Because the Board’s Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for this Project is deficient in numerous prejudicial reports, the Board’s issuance of a Conditional Use Permit and Variance for this Project are unlawful and this Court must set them aside,” the plaintiff’s petition states.
The Project includes 42 miles of access rods and 112 wind turbines each approximately 448 feet tall, each with massive foundations, and more.
The suit also sites concern for water quality in an aquifer that provides the sole source of drinking water for Ocotillo, Coyote Wells, Yuba Estates and Nomirage.
Specifically, plaintiffs contend that Supervisors’ certified an EIR that does not comply with CEQA. In addition to environmental concerns, they note that the FEIR failed to calculate how much infrasound and low-frequency noise the project would product, let alone analyze those impacts. Nor were audible noise impacts accurately calculated or mitigation for noise impacts analyzed.
“Dozens of residences are located within 1.25 miles of the proposed turbines on the Project site, including those in the communities of Ocotillo and Coyote Wells,” the suit states. “T avoid the negative health impacts from wind turbines, experts recommend setbacks from large wind projects of at least 1.25 miles. The County ignored evidence submitted by petitioners and their experts pertaining to the need to provide an adequate setback,” plaintiffs allege.
The suit also accuses officials of failing to adequately analyze potential impacts of stray voltage and dirty electricity, which the FEIR dismissed as not “expected to occur” despite the fact that the Campo wind facility built by Pattern has had stray voltage measured at 1,000 times normal in a nearby church and tribal hall, where tribal members claim they are ill with symptoms they believe are linked to proximity of the turbines. Plaintiffs accuse Imperial Valley officials of “ignoring the studies demonstrating significant human health impacts from EMF and dirty electricity.”
Impact of blade shadow flicker (a strobe-like effect that occurs when the sun rises or sets behind rotating turbine blades, casting shadows) on passing motorists on I-8 and Imperial Highway S2 were not analyzed, nor were impacts of the wind facility on birds, bats, bighorn sheep and other wildlife adequately assessed, the suit contends.
As for Native American cultural resources, the FEIR failed to analyze impacts of the project on current ceremonial uses by tribes at the site, as well as impacts on archaeological resources. Nor were cumulative impacts of this project and other renewable energy projects in the area on cultural resources calculated. Risks of fire, spread of invasive species and other factors were also not adequately addressed, plaintiffs maintain.
“In addition, the EIR deferred analysis of the Project’s site specific geologic hazards until after approval,” the suite observes, noting that changing design and location of turbines to avoid geotechnical hazards such as earthquake faults can significantly impact resources. Pattern has consistently refused to answer questions about seismic safety issues when asked by ECM and other media. “A full geotechnic study and report should have been completed and presented in the DEIR [Draft Environmental Impact Report] so that the public could comment on the adequacy of the study,” the suit argues.
Plaintiffs are asking the court for injunctive relief to halt the project and seek to set aside the EIR certification, condidtional use permit and variance. They also seek attorney fees and court costs, as well as “such other equitable or legal relief as the Court deems appropriate.”