Activists in the Lucerne and Victor Valleys received good news from the BLM this past week that plans for the North Peak Wind project had been withdrawn. The project would have industrialized nearly 16 square miles of a popular outdoor recreation area known as Juniper Flats popular for hiking and horseback riding, where desert habitat transitions from creosote and yucca scrub to chapparal, grassland and desert conifer. Groups such as the Alliance for Desert Preservation and Mojave Communities Conservation Collaborative quickly organized to protect Juniper Flats, as well as to challenge the proposed Coolwater-Lugo Transmission project, which is still pending.
Although it is not yet clear why the company withdrew the wind project application, local expression of concern regarding the fate of the beautiful Juniper Flats likely sent a strong signal to the developer – E.ON Climate and Renewables – that they faced an uphill battle. Local concern also prompted opposition to the project by San Bernardino County supervisors.
Another significant factor might have been the draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). Under the BLM’s preferred alternative, the Juniper Flats area would be designated as an area of critical environmental concern (ACEC), and a smaller portion of the area would be brought into the National Landscape Conservation System. This put the wind project on a collision course with the DRECP because energy projects that do not have a published draft environmental review within 60 days of the draft DRECP’s release would be subject to the DRECP’s land designations (DRECP Volume II, page II.3-312). North Peak Wind almost certainly could not complete a draft environmental review before the end of 2014, and would have been doomed by the DRECP’s decision to designate Juniper Flats as an ACEC.
Fans of the Juniper Flats area are now asking to expand the NLCS designation to cover more of the area. You can sign a petition in support of the NLCS designation at the Alliance for Desert Preservation website. Although the ACEC status alone would prevent new energy applications among the hills, the addition of NLCS status would probably make the conservation status more enduring.
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