OCOTILLO – The project area where the controversial 112 wind turbine project is located was recently deemed a “sacred site” by the Native American Heritage Commission, a ruling seen as symbolic victory by some opposing the project.
The Native American Heritage Commission is the primary government agency responsible for identifying and cataloging Native American cultural resources.
The commission’s determination was made Monday in San Diego, following hours of testimony from tribes, impacted community members, conservation organizations and representatives from Imperial County and Pattern Energy, the project’s developer, according to a press release from the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.
Tribes have long claimed the project permanently affects cultural and archaeological resources and that the process lacked so-called meaningful consultation.
The area is known to have Native American praying circles and cremation sites. According to a Bureau of Land Management report, there are more than 287 documented archaeological sites that include geoglyphs and prehistoric ceramics.
Bob Scheid, Viejas spokesman, praised the ruling but characterized it “a symbolic victory.”
He added that with the ruling, the commission has called for “enforcement options” from the state Attorney General. “That was a lot more than we could have ever could have asked for,” he said.
The commission couldn’t be reached for comments, but its website notes that although the commission has the legal authority to make recommendations regarding the treatment and disposition of discovered remains, it cannot halt work on a project site.
Matt Dallas, Pattern Energy spokesman, said through a statement that Pattern investigated the site before any construction occurred and worked with the BLM in consultation with “interested Native American tribes.”
He also said that “development of the Ocotillo Wind Energy facility was entirely consistent with the objectives and mission of the California Native American Heritage Commission.”
But perhaps most importantly, he noted that “the project, which was designed to avoid direct impacts to all of the identified Native American cultural resources in the project area, has now effectively completed construction.”
The last of the wind turbines was reportedly erected last week.
Still, tribes did ask that the turbines be dismantled, said Scheid, but “whether that is feasible or practical, we don’t know.”
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