November 7, 2008

Residents meet to speak out against power lines

Proposed project could damage local wildlands

Marcel Honoré
The Desert Sun

Residents of Desert Hot Springs and the high desert are bracing for a long fight against Los Angeles power officials over a proposed transmission line corridor that could cut through local wildland preserves.

About 100 people attended a meeting in Yucca Valley on Thursday opposing Green Path North, a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power proposal to carry geothermal energy from the Salton Sea to Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Although the project would provide renewable energy, it also could severely damage the local environment, opponents say. The lines could cut through Desert Hot Springs, and wildlands in Big Morongo Canyon Preserve and the San Bernardino National Forest.

If built there, the lines would cut off crucial wildlife corridors and threaten species such as bighorn sheep, said Mike Cirpa of the National Parks Conservation Association.

Local residents further worry the project would destroy the area's pristine beauty and hurt property values.

“This is the last frontier in California, this part of the state,” said Charles McHenry, a seven-year Yucca Valley resident at the meeting. “They're going to destroy all that.”

Agency officials did not speak at the meeting.

Several attendees said they suspected the agency not only was interested in transporting renewable energy from eastern Riverside County, but also in building the lines to collect transmission revenues. The California Desert Coalition, which organized the meeting, wants the the agency to use existing transmission lines along the Interstate 10 corridor that are controlled by Southern California Edison.

“This is a David-and-Goliath situation, and David has the upper hand,” said Robin Kobaly of the SummerTree Institute, a nonprofit group that supports the CDC.

“It's basically going to take over some important scenic views” in the city, Desert Hot Springs City Councilman Russell Betts told attendees. Meeting organizers asked Betts if other Coachella Valley cities had expressed opposition.

“The power lines don't run directly through their cities so we'll have to impress upon them” the importance, he answered. “We'll make that effort.”

Coalition leaders said they hope to generate enough early support from state and federal elected officials to stop Green Path North before it takes off. They've met with staff for Reps. Jerry Lewis and Mary Bono Mack, as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said April Sall, coalition chairwoman.

Sall told attendees to expect the agency to begin its public environmental review process as early as Jan. 2009.