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New lawsuit against Ocotillo Express filed

A new lawsuit against an approved a 112-wind-turbine project set to be built east of Ocotillo was filed in federal court, an environmental organization announced Friday.

The Desert Protective Council filed suit Friday afternoon in a federal court in San Diego, said Terry Weiner, Imperial County projects coordinator for the DPC.

The announcement comes just days after a federal court in San Diego denied a motion for a temporary restraining order filed by the Quechan Indian Tribe. The tribe is still pursuing a full injunction in court.

“We didn’t apply for a temporary restraining order,” said Weiner, adding her organization is asking for the case to be heard “as soon as possible.”

The Ocotillo Express LLC Wind Energy Project was approved by the Imperial County Board of Supervisors last month and recently received the Bureau of Land Management’s right-of-way for construction.

This lawsuit is different from the Quechan’s suit in that it focuses on the natural resources, animals and the plants “that would be ruined” because of the project, she said.

The roughly 12,000-acre project would be located mostly on BLM land, while bordering some five miles of the De Anza Borrego State Park, the second-largest state park in the country. However, the project will use 120 acres of that space, according to Pattern Energy, owner of the project.

Environmentalists maintain that bighorn sheep and their habitat, flat-tailed horned lizards, bats, migratory birds and numerous plants will be negatively and permanently affected by the project.

These add to Native American concerns. They allege that hundreds of cultural and archaeological resources will also be affected.

Both groups feel mitigation plans are insufficient.

The lawsuit is directed at Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, Imperial County and Pattern, and alleges that Salazar acted illegally when he approved amending the area’s conservation plan.

“We think it is illegal and a crime to have amended that plan,” said Weiner, while referring to the 1980s California Desert Conservation Area Plan, which listed the area for limited use only.

The suit also alleges that the county ignored ordinance standards for noise.

But the county, along with Pattern, differ with opponents and hold that mitigation plans are sufficient.

“Pattern has spent three years carefully planning, listening to the community and addressing feedback through numerous project revisions,” said Pattern Energy Chief Executive Officer Mike Garland in a press statement.

Pattern – and supporters of the project – also attest to the millions of dollars in revenue the project will produce for the county, and the roughly 350 jobs that will be created during construction.

These benefits are separate from the community benefit funds and the 20 permanent jobs expected to be created once the project is built.