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Bureau of Land Management blesses Ocotillo Express wind turbine project

A 112-wind-turbine project set to be built east of Ocotillo received approval from the Department of Interior on Friday, the Bureau of Land Management announced.

The announcement comes about two weeks after the Board of Supervisors approved the project amidst heavy opposition from the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, the Quechan Tribe, environmentalists and some Ocotillo residents who appealed for the project’s denial.

The Ocotillo Express LLC Wind Energy project will be built mostly on BLM land and hence, this decision was the final step for construction to begin.

This project was also a priority project for the BLM and the federal government encouraged the process to be “fast-tracked.”

This decision authorizes the BLM to give Pattern Energy, the owner of the project, the right-of-way to use these public lands for 30 years if all payments and other conditions are met, according to a BLM statement.

“The project has undergone extensive environmental review, starting with public scoping in December 2010, followed by a draft environment impact statement,” according to the release. The final EIS was released in March 9.

“We have heard from members of Congress, local and state officials and members of the community who feel passionately about this project,” said Jim Kenna, BLM California State Director in the statement.

“After careful consideration and environmental review, we have worked with interested parties to create a project that protects the important cultural values of the area and produces clean energy on American soil,” Kenna said.

Hundreds of comments from members of the public were sent to the BLM, according to the release, and the final project, which was reduced in size, reflects strong efforts to mitigate potential impacts.

But opposition groups have long sustained that cultural and archaeological resources, as well as wildlife, will be permanently affected by the project.

Furthermore, tribes said that the final EIS doesn’t adequately address their concerns and that no meaningful consultation took place.

On the other hand, supporters list the millions in revenue and the jobs the project could bring as reasons for standing behind it.

About $442 million in revenue will come to the county over the life of the project, according to an independent report.

With the decision comes the protection of cultural resources by identifying some 2,200 acres of public land as unsuitable for future wind energy development that were within the area analyzed for the project, but outside the area of the final plan, according to the release.

Meanwhile, Native American tribes, along with recreation and hunting organizations, called for a moratorium on “fast-tracking” massive energy projects on public lands through a press statement also circulated Friday.

“This industrial wind project is symbolic of what’s wrong with the current federal fast-tracking process,” said Terry Weiner, Imperial County Projects Coordinator for the Desert Protective Council.

“We are absolutely calling on the Obama administration to reconsider and ultimately retract from this horrible fast track process,” said Bob Scheid, Viejas spokesman, who described the issue as “a land grab for private profit.”

Scheid also said that the Department of Interior’s decision “is not the end of the runway,” and that tribes and opposition groups are considering their options.

“There are still some options,” he said, “(and) we just have to remain hopeful that common sense and better judgment will prevail.”

Construction of the project will start this month and completion is expected for next year.