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OCOTILLO – Protesters that marched and chanted in front of construction equipment Saturday said they felt like they won the day, stalling work on a wind farm in the area for a time.
However, more days and more people will be needed to make an impact on Pattern Energy’s Ocotillo Expressway under construction in the areas surrounding the township, said Denis Trafecanty, co-founder of the Protect Our Communities Foundation.
Dozens of people stood their ground along roadways created at the wind farm project west of the township, holding signs proclaiming “Sunrise destroys Ocotillo forest,” “Pattern of misleading statements” and simply “Pattern sucks.” While not the first protest over the project, Saturday’s event, titled “Take a stand in the sand” had one of the larger turnouts for such an event.
Protesters said that the work originally set to happen Saturday was postponed because of the protest. However, a Pattern Energy official said that work is not scheduled every weekend at the project.
The group of local and regional protesters headed out to the project site near the construction yard Saturday, choosing that day because it’s more convenient as a number of them work, Trafecanty said. They may have to change that, though, and head out during a weekday in order to get more of a confrontation.
“They are afraid of what we are becoming, which is, this is mushrooming, and we’re going to get more and more people,” he said. “…This project can’t move forward.”
When some people look in the area, all they see is the sand, said Larry Sutton Jr., a member of the Viejas Tribe. It’s a lot more than that though, with biologically significant plants and important heritage sites for the Indian tribes.
“It matters to us,” he said. “It’s not just sand.”
Shuuluk Leo-Retz, 11, also with the Viejas Tribe, agreed.
“How would you like it if someone dug up your graveyard?” he said. “We need to protect our ancestors.”
Some in the Ocotillo area have already started to feel the impacts of the project. Linda Ewing lives in one of the first houses that is affected by dust. Her pool is always filled with an inch of sand, she said.
“In the name of progress … it’s sad,” she said. “They didn’t need to fast-track it. They could have been more considerate of what is here.”
Pattern Energy could have come in and said it will do what it can to remediate issues, she said. However, actions speak louder than words, and the project is cutting down forests of Ocotillo to build roads that are larger than originally proposed.
“All of this is for L.A.,” she said. “None of this will help Imperial County. … There was the promise of all these jobs, and they didn’t materialize.
“It was a lot of understatements, a lot of lies to sell it to our Board of Supervisors,” she said.
Representatives from Pattern Energy disagreed about the impact and how the group has worked with the community.
“Pattern is committed to respecting the cultural heritage of the area and has spent three years carefully planning, listening to the community and addressing feedback through numerous project revisions,” said Glen Hodges, Pattern Energy project manager. “We are proud this project represents a long-term investment in the economic health of the region by bringing up to 350 jobs to the area, generating millions of dollars in community benefits and creating a source of clean energy that will power up to 125,000 homes with zero emissions.”
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