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Imperial County Board of Supervisors votes 4-1 to approve Pattern Energy windfarm

After a two-day appeal hearing, a 112-wind-turbine project set to be build west of Ocotillo was approved 4-1 Wednesday by the Imperial County Board of Supervisors.

“I’m not going to be able to support this project. It just scares me because once you start drilling your project could die two years from now, or five years from now,” said Supervisor Jack Terrazas, who represents Ocotillo and was the only dissenting vote.

The Ocotillo Express LLC Wind Energy Project had already been approved by the county Planning Commission last month, but appealed by five groups including the applicant, Pattern Energy.

In their appeal, most groups alleged that biological and cultural impacts weren’t adequately addressed by the environmental impact report.

This comes as Native American cultural resources of some 8,000 years of age are located in the vicinity of the project; all while the project will border the Anza Borrego State Park for some five miles.

But unlike Tuesday’s hearing, which lasted all day and was packed with advocates and opposition groups sitting on opposing sides of the supervisors’ chambers, this hearing had a more moderate attendance and time length.

Still, speakers on both sides came forward.

“Yesterday you listened to a professional tell you that essential information about sighting and locating essential components of the project have not been publicly available,” said Ocotillo resident Edie Harmon to the board.

During Tuesday’s hearing, two experts hired by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians argued that the EIR was lacking in terms of geological studies and air quality analyses.

Another speaker that reiterated concerns previously voiced was Charlie Brown, Viejas community relations director.

To have the “thumping” of the project on his ancestors, he said, is “like beating on somebody’s coffin.”

“We believe our souls are in the mountains and our heart is in the land,” he continued as his voice broke, “and when you take that away from us you (take) a part of our soul.”

Brown’s plea was followed by a plea from construction business owners, job developers and union workers, to name a few.

“The residents of this Valley depend on these jobs to be able to feed their families,” said International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569 Business Manager Johnny Simpson.

Soon after, the integrity of the EIR was supported by county staff and Pattern alike.

Air quality analyses were presented in the EIR, said environmental consultant John Davidson, before listing were the items could be found in the document.

He also pointed out that seismic studies are addressed and the types of details suggested as needed “are not typical” in an EIR.

The rebuttal satisfied most of the board.

“I have to balance what in the long run is in the best interest of Imperial County,” said Supervisor Michael Kelley. “I have no alternative than to support Pattern Energy.”

The vote of approval “is a disappointment but not a surprise,” said Viejas spokesman Bob Sheid. The tribe will now “look at all our legal options.”

Pattern starts construction in May.