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Ocotillo windmill project met with opposition; Quechan Tribe filed lawsuit against federal government in hopes of stopping construction

OCOTILLO, Calif. – A renewable energy wind project may break ground this month on what is believed to be a sacred burial site in Ocotillo.

Pattern Energy plans to move forward with plans for a windmill project in Ocotillo.

On Tuesday, about 40 people turned out in protest against the project at the company’s office in La Jolla.

“We’re not against green energy, but this isn’t the appropriate place for it,” said Keeny Escalanti Sr., who is the Quechan Tribe president.

The project would be capable of powering more than 120,000 homes with what is considered clean energy and will create more 300 construction jobs. While the carbon footprint may be low, Escalanti said the impact would be great.

“I know our people would probably be in tears,” he said.

That is part of why they filed a lawsuit against the federal government on Monday in hopes of stopping construction.

He said it is wrong for the government to hand over public land to a private company.

“[The government is] going back to their old ways of broken promises,” he said.

Greybuck Espinoza, a Viejas councilman, said they hold the area close to their hearts because their ancestors did. Many of them are believed to be buried there.

“There are human remains out there,” Espinoza said. “There are petroglyphs [and] geoglyphs.”

He fears it will all be wiped out.

“If this was your grandparents, your mother’s grave, and we wanted to move forward with some type of project, how would you feel?” said Espinoza.

Tribal members hired forensic dog handlers, which they believe prove it is a sacred burial site.

“Once we cremate our people and put our people away, that is no longer to be disturbed,” said Escalanti.

Pattern Energy told 10News they are making efforts to address cultural and environmental concerns. The company issued this statement to 10News:

“While Pattern has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation, the Environmental Impact Statement clearly demonstrates that we have designed the Ocotillo Wind Project to minimize impacts on cultural and environmental resources. We are committed to building the Project in a responsible manner and bringing jobs and economic development benefits to the Imperial Valley, as well as enough clean energy to supply the needs of 125,000 local homes every year. While we respect all individuals right to different opinions, we believe the project has the support of many local residents, county officials and Native Americans who respect the efforts we’ve made on this project.”