Morongo Basin Residents Defend the DRECP
Dear MBCA Members and Supporters,
It was a windy and chilly winter weeknight on March 1st… yet there was a fantastic turn out for the BLM-hosted DRECP (Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan) Scoping meeting and the subsequent conservation program in Joshua Tree. Every seat was occupied and a standing-room-only crowd filled the JT Community Center to capacity with as many as 200 attending. It was the strong response needed to demonstrate the Morongo Basin public’s support of conservation protections in the DRECP!
Thanks to all who were there. For those of you who were unable to attend, MBCA sponsored video documentation of the conservation program. Click here: “Morongo Basin Residents / Defend DRECP Desert Plan”
The conservation panel was moderated by Chris Clarke, National Park Conservation Association. Panelists April Sall, California Desert Coalition, Kate Hoit, Vet Voice Foundation, & Frazier Haney, Mojave Desert Land Trust reviewed Department of Interior’s proposed amendment to the DRECP, and answered questions for making substantive comments. David Lamfrom, National Park Conservation Association, made eloquent closing remarks. Following the panel, a court recorder was provided for audience members’ oral responses to be submitted as comments to the DRECP Scoping.
The Basin community wants more, not less, public land protected from development. How do we communicate this with substantive comments to the Federal Administration?
There is a consensus that we don’t want to jeopardize the conservation lands achieved in the long 8-year DRECP process. Some voices at the meeting last week expressed the thought that accepting any changes to the Plan could unravel the whole bundle of agreements reached – like pulling at a thread in a knitted sweater. That was the just say “no” or “no change” position. Speakers noted that the process the DRECP established appears to be working. In the two years since the Record of Decision put the Plan into effect, there have been no lawsuits. Give it a chance to truly see how effective it is. This isn’t to say the DRECP is perfect, but let’s work within it before it’s scrapped for who knows what. It is not the conservation community advising the Department of Interior to reopen the DRECP, it is solar and wind energy developers and mining interests.
Another perspective contends that it’s not a question of whether the Administration will open up the DRECP, but when. This represents the position: if we don’t take a seat at the table, we won’t get dinner. The conservation community should weigh in with specifics on issues we’ve discovered since the implementation of the DRECP to identify where the Plan needs improvement and why. For example, issues around the location of Development Focus Areas (DFAs), especially with the increased knowledge of what can go wrong, including ineffective mitigations.
MBCA has been taking the lead, under the leadership of MBCA Director Pat Flanagan, at raising awareness of the unfortunate & irreversible impacts to our rural desert communities of inappropriately sited industrial scale Renewable Energy (RE). In particular, Pat has researched and shared when and where we can identify the effects of wind-borne dust after the delicate desert crust is damaged and native plants removed. Better soil analysis and knowledge to correlate the effects of siting RE along the Mojave Desert’s Sand Transport Paths (STPs) is needed.
Death by Dust!
Is this a social justice issue? Is this the Administration taking revenge on California? Is this a gross disregard for desert ecology and the welfare of desert citizens? I have to say, YES it is!
Here are considerations as you prepare to Comment on the DRECP:
If you are concerned about air quality - Say that!
If you are concerned about effects on wildlife – the desert tortoise, and other species - Say that!
If you are concerned about industrial scale RE overburdening our desert aquifers - Say that!
If you believe that California is on track to meet the 2030 goal established for 50% RE and that sufficient land was set aside for RE development in the DRECP (as does the California Energy Commission) - Say that!
If you have experienced the ill effects of a solar or wind “farm” (Morongo Basin and Lucerne Valley residents have learned the hard way that their quality of life, and their property values are being destroyed from solar development sited next door to their homes) - Say that!
If you believe that point of use solar – rooftops & shade structures – is the way to go, not scraping intact pristine desert - Say that!
If you are benefiting from the Basin’s tourist economy and see the value of preserving the scenic values of our desert landscapes -
If you believe it is critical to respond to climate change by keeping the natural desert landscape intact - Say that!
Say what you feel, you know, you care about! Be “substantive” – tie your concern back to a specific understanding about the DRECP and desert conservation.
If you haven’t already, make your voice heard in two critical ways
1. BLM: Submit comments against the Administration’s plan to reduce conservation protections achieved in the DRECP by the March 22, 2018 deadline by writing to:
BLM-California State Director
mail: 2800 Cottage Way, Room W-1623, Sacramento, CA 95825
Include with comments:
Your Name; Affiliation (if applicable); Phone: E-mail; Mailing Address
2. San Bernardino County’s desert Supervisors:
The County will be submitting Scoping comments to BLM. Your voice matters in their decision-making. Call or write to urge them:
THIS TUESDAY, March 13, 2018 join MBCA Directors at the Joshua Tree Burke Government videoconference center to make your comments at the Supervisors meting. The open comment period begins at approximately 10:00AM – 11:00AM.
At that time MBCA Directors will present a petition with more than 200 signatures.
To call or write Supervisors:
* James Ramos, Third District Supervisor
(909) 387.4855 / E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Robert A. Lovingood, Chairman & First District Supervisor
(909) 387.4830 / E-mail: email@example.com
The Basin communities, perhaps more than any others, have spoken to defend the desert. We’ve stood up for it during the long 8-year deliberations to craft a DRECP with conservation protections & recreational opportunities, balanced with the demand for energy production, mining, and OHV use. It is unclear exactly how this new battle will play out. But it ain’t over till it’s over!
Sarah Kennington, President
Morongo Basin Conservation Association
Your 2017 MBCA Board
David Fick, Vice President Steve Bardwell, Treasurer
Marina West, Recording Secretary Pat Flanagan, Director
Meg Foley, Director Mike Lipsitz, Director
Ruth Rieman, Director Claudia Sall, Director
Seth Shteir, Director Laraine Turk, Director
p.s. MBCA’s Desert Wise Living spring Landscape Tour, showcasing the desert lifestyle we are striving to protect through our comments on the DRECP, is in need of volunteer docents to assist during the tour on April 28 and 29. Please contact Cathy Zarakov, our volunteer coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in spending a half-day outdoors with our generous garden hosts and always enthusiastic visitors. In return for your time you will receive a complementary pass to attend the tour.
p.p.s. Our thanks to Bob Stephenson / ProVideo for his professional support in making the March 1st video documentation possible.
MBCA advocates for a healthy desert environment
that nurtures the region’s rural character, cultural wealth
and economic well-being.
For more information, news, and links on the proposed amendment to DRECP:
MBCA’s News Update Review of DRECP Comments Needed – Feb 4, 2018 (with pertinent links to BLM, Federal Register, news articles)
Mojave Desert Blog Trump planning to Hand Over Desert Wildlands to Industry – February 1, 2018
Desert Sun In stunning reversal, Trump could open California desert to more solar and wind farms, by Sammy Roth – March 2, 1018
Desert Sun Joshua Tree cries foul as Trump targets California desert for energy projects, by Sammy Roth – March 5, 2018
In another extraordinarily detailed and comprehensive document, MBCA Director Pat Flanagan on June 30 sent MBCA's official comment letter on the proposed Ord Mountain Solar and Energy Storage Project in Lucerne Valley to San Bernardino County Land Use Services. In addition,
(Please note that not all links may still be available.)
Excerpt from May 31, 2017 Eblast
Joshua Tree Airport Solar Project
NextEra /JT Solar project is also officially in a "legal stay" for six months as requested by NextEra. The Southern California Edison’s RAM PPA for the project has expired and NextEra has stated no work on the project has gone forward. The group Joshua Tree Community for Responsible Solar took the lead in opposing the project and initiated legal action.
Excerpt from August 29, 2016 Eblast
Joshua Tree Solar Farm Appeal denied
The Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted August 16th 4-1 to deny the three appeals filed and gave their approval for development of the Joshua Tree Solar Farm – a 20 megawatt photovoltaic project to be located on 115 acres at the former Roy Williams Airport site. Many residents spoke in support of the appeals and more sent letters – clearly and strongly expressing opposition to this project in the rural residential community. Apparently our arguments, including that this is not an area that can accurately be characterized as “disturbed land” (it is relatively intact acreage) and therefore not appropriate for industrial scale solar were not convincing to the majority of Supervisors. They also discounted the fact that the site is visible from a hiking trail in Joshua Tree National Park – which according to the County’s own Renewable Energy and Conservation Element Framework is a criteria worthy of consideration. Only our 3rd District Supervisor, James Ramos voted in favor of the appeal to stop the project. Defend Joshua Tree (https://defendjt.wordpress.com) has reported that a lawsuit or three to stop the project from moving forward seems likely. MBCA E-Blasts will keep you informed of these efforts. This battle isn’t over yet.
Excerpt from Eblast August 1, 2016
NEXT TUESDAY - OPPOSE JOSHUA TREE AIRPORT SOLAR FARM
August 9th; 10:00 AM (open session begins) – 2:00 PM
Supervisors Appeal Hearing
Attend via videoconference: Bob Burke Government Center,
6427 Whitefeather Road, Joshua Tree – just East of the Courthouse.
Attend in person: BOS Hearing Chamber, San Bernardino,
Dear MBCA Members and Supporters,
MBCA, the Morongo Basin MAC, and others have strongly stated opposition to the Joshua Tree Airport Solar Farm proposed by NextEra. This will likely be our last opportunity to stop the project that would have numerous harmful impacts to the local community, as well as visiting tourists (documented in links that follow).
San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors (BOS) will conduct a public hearing to consider three appeals of a Planning Commission action to approve the Conditional Use permit to establish this 20-megawatt photovoltaic solar energy generating facility on approximately 115 acres at the former Hi Desert (Roy Williams) Airport. The Appellants are: Coalition for Responsible Solar, Socal Environmental Justice Alliances, and Joshua Tree Community for Responsible Solar, as well as individuals.
The BOS have warned: Due to time constraints and the number of persons wishing to give oral testimony, time restrictions may be placed, on oral testimony at the public hearing regarding this proposal. You may wish to make your comments in writing to ensure that you are able to express yourself adequately. Any questions regarding the hearing should be addressed to the Planning Division of the Land Use Service Dept., 385 North Arrowhead Ave., first floor, San Bernardino, CA 92415-0187l (909) 387-8311
You may also call John Oquendo, Senior Planner, Land Use Services Department, with any questions: 760-995-8153
Re.: The appeals of the Joshua Tree Solar Farm Project (Main Project No. P201400482, Appeals No. P201600230, P201600234, and P201600230)
Read the official notice of the appeals hearing.
Read Joshua Tree resident Tom O’Key’s letter to the Hi Desert Star.
Read MBCA’s comment letter.
Hope to see many of you at the Burke Center to fill the audience with community in support of the Appeals to stop this ill-conceived, ill-sited project in its tracks!
A grant is now in place with the County to begin planning bicycle trails across the Morongo Basin. MBCA Board of Advisors member Greg Gilbert has worked toward this goal for a number of years. As reported on KCDZ radio, "The bike trails project would stretch approximately 100 miles altogether, uniting the Morongo Basin communities." Here is the full story.
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While we cannot say that there has been an end to plans for the Alta Mira housing project in the Friendly Hills area of Joshua Tree, the JT 105 Alliance citizens' group has informed MBCA that the developers have recently offered the project land for sale. Below is an update from the Alliance and also links to some of the documents involved in the ongoing legal efforts to stop or change the plan for the Alta Mira Housing Development in the Friendly Hills area of Joshua Tree.
1) A summary of the current situation is presented in this Press Release from the JT105 Alliance.
2) The Alliance provided a copy of the October 28, 2016 CEQA petition they filed that outlined all the points of concern about the development.
3) In January 2017, the Alliance proposed to the developers a settlement offer that included two very specific alternative revisions to their existing development plan that would be much more acceptable to the alliance and many Joshua Tree residents who have been concerned about the very “urban” plan proposed by the developers. As the Alliance wrote, “We are not anti-development; we respect smart and ecologically-sensitive development.”
Here's an explanatory paragraph about the stay from the Alliance update:
"A six-month stay was agreed upon, on March 17, so that the developers could explore these options, during which they are not to pursue any permits for construction. Shortly after the agreement, a community member notified the Alliance that the developers had listed the project for sale, with the tract map approval as a key marketing point. If they were to sell the land, the lawsuit, and the wrath of hundreds, would be inherited by the new owner."
On January 22, 2016, MBCA submitted a detailed comment letter to the BLM about the proposed changes to the West Mojave Plan (WEMO), arguing against the Plan Amendment, particularly the preferred Alternative 3, as it "threatens our quality of life, property values, tourism economics, and public land conservation values by legalizing OHV riding on thousands of miles of dirt roads throughout our Morongo Basin and other area communities in the West Mojave." Further, the letter demonstrates how the BLM's plan flies in the face of the federal Small Tract Act with its intent to provide a comfortable framework for residential desert communities.