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Decision pending on Ocotillo Wind lawsuit

SAN DIEGO – A decision on a temporary restraining order against the wind turbine energy project being built near Ocotillo is pending following a hearing held at the Southern District Federal Court here Friday.

Community Advocates For Renewable Energy Stewardship, an organization comprised mainly of Ocotillo residents, presented its case against the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management and the project’s owner, Pattern Energy.

Claimants and defendants debated for more than an hour in what is one of a handful of lawsuits that Ocotillo Wind Express and its 112 turbines have been facing since approval in May.

“Your honor, this case is not about wind or energy policies or government programs or greenhouses – this case goes directly to the foundations upon which this country was first established – this case goes to the rule of law,” attorney William Pate said during his opening remarks. Pate represents the Ocotillo associations.

Pate said that the 12,000 acres of public lands formerly deemed for limited use weren’t eligible for development to begin with, while alleging the area didn’t have the wind resources necessary. Records show wind resources are marginal to poor, he said, adding prevailing winds are blocked by mountains.

Moreover, Pate alleged deficiencies in so-called geotechnical information. There is “not a single plan sheet stamped by an engineer,” he said, further adding certain maps didn’t have the required information.

In addition, grading plans for 42 miles of new roads are also missing and these roads are being constructed wider than approved, according to Pate, who also said changes to construction plans had occurred and that turbines were placed too close to each other.

The defendants’ response came in two waves.

In its opening remarks Bureau of Land Management attorney Marisa Pirapato sustained the claimants didn’t articulate “any harm to CARE or to its members that would warrant a restraining order.”

On the contrary, she said, the project’s 315 megawatts would create enough power for 95,000 homes and hundreds of jobs in a region where unemployment is about 26 percent.

Pirapato also pointed out that the BLM was implementing mitigation and monitoring measures that address hazards. She then rebutted the notion that wind resources are low.

“The record flatly contradicts that,” she said and added that the National Energy Laboratory and “the wind programmatic impact statement identified this site as having high resource potential for wind development.”

Pattern Energy also provided more than 7,000 hours of video showing the site was appropriate for wind development, she said, before addressing the allegations that dealt with mapping deficiencies.

Regulations call for topographic maps or the equivalent, she said, and the equivalent was so-called GIS maps, which allows more precise mapping.

She also said that the BLM’s job is to protect the environment and that construction variances were done to protect cultural resources and that there is no requirements for grading.

Pattern attorney Svend Brandt-Erichsen followed. He pointed that there are no legal requirements on turbine spacing and that engineering documentation has been provided.

Brandt-Erichsen also said this was an unusual time to place a motion to try to stop construction. These are not timely motions, he said.

Pate had the final word though, and reiterated the allegation of a lack of plan sheets while questioning the project’s megawatts production and the number of homes it could serve.

Following Pate’s rebuttal, Judge William Hayes assured both parties he would make a determination, but didn’t specify when this decision could be issued.

In one week, the Desert Protective Council will also come before the same court and judge to argue against the project.