January 31, 2008

L.A.breaks ground on largest city-owned wind farm

U.S. Department of Energy

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the city's Department of Water and Power (DWP) broke ground January 31 at the site of the Pine Tree Wind Farm in the Tehachapi Mountains, roughly 100 miles northwest of the city. The $425 million project is expected to be completed in 2009 and to deliver 120 megawatts (MW) of electricity to Los Angeles, enough to power 56,000 homes.

Villaraigosa says Pine Tree will be the largest municipally owned and municipally operated wind farm in the nation. In comparison, the second largest city-owned wind farm, Sacramento Municipal Utility District's Solano County project, outsources its operations to a third party.

Pine Tree will comprise 80 1.5-MW wind turbines on its 8,000-acre site, feeding electricity into a new high-voltage transmission line, and the new Barren Ridge electrical substation.

Construction is expected to generate hundreds of contract jobs, in addition to 12 full-time jobs for the project's long-term maintenance.

The energy produced at Pine Tree is expected to displace 200,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, or the equivalent of taking 35,000 cars off the road. It is also expected to cut 8 tons of nitrous oxide and 11 tons of carbon monoxide. The project will bring Los Angeles closer to its goal of producing 20 percent of its energy from renewables by 2010 — and 35 percent by 2020 — while cutting the city's carbon footprint.

"Pine Tree is the start of a new model of clean energy, in which the City of Los Angeles is no longer satisfied with only buying clean power, but is taking the lead nationally in producing its own," Villaraigosa said.

Villaraigosa also announced plans to develop the Pine Canyon Wind Project on 12,000 acres of recently purchased property adjacent to the Pine Tree project. When completed, the 150-MW wind farm will surpass Pine Tree as the largest wind farm in the nation.

Last May, Villaraigosa announced GREEN LA – An Action Plan to Lead the Nation in Fighting Global Warming. The plan is composed of 50 initiatives that aim to reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions 35 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, going beyond the targets of the Kyoto Protocol.

January 28, 2008

Mojave River Flooding closes Rock Springs Road

2,400 gallons of water per second being released

RYAN ORR Staff Writer
Victor Valley Daily Press

Rock Springs Road has been over taken by Mojave River flood waters.
Reneh Agha / Staff Photographer

ROCK SPRINGS — Rock Springs Road has been over taken by Mojave River flood waters and now looks more like a lake, cutting off at least 11,000 vehicles per day who use it.

Due to the recent heavy rains more than 366,000 gallons of water per minute is being released into the Mojave River, which has caused the closing of Rock Springs Road.

The low-lying road which connects Apple Valley to Hesperia is often flooded out during heavy rains.

The recent storms caused the California Department of Water Resources to release water from Silverwood Lake.

“Cedar Springs Dam is not a flood control dam so any natural resources that come in, we have to let out,” said John Bunce, operations superintendent for the department.

Starting Sunday, the department began releasing 320 cubic feet of water from the dam per second, or 2,400 gallons.

By Sunday night it was up to 4,500 gallons per second being released, said David Zook, spokesman for San Bernardino County 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt.

Monday morning they increased the flow again up to 815 cubic feet per second, or 61,000 gallons, Zook added. It will continue at that rate indefinitely he said.

The Cedar Springs Dam holds water in Silverwood Lake. The lake is a state water project retaining water from the California Aqueduct.

“That water belongs to us, not the state water project,” Zook said of the natural rainfall.

The Mojave Forks Dam, located further down river from Silverwood lake but still before Rock Springs Road was reportedly releasing 5,700 cubic feet of water per second Sunday or 42,750 gallons of water.

The National Weather Service released a flood warning Sunday saying significant water was expected to be released into the Mojave River.

As a result of the alert, Mitzelfelt initiated the telephone emergency notification system to alert residents in the area of the possible flood dangers.

Zook said about 3,000 residents were notified.

Monday afternoon, eight inches of water was still flowing over Rock Springs Road, Zook said.

Zook said public works officials didn’t expect the road to be badly damaged from the flooding.

According to the San Bernardino County Department of Public Works, no other roads down stream required closure, due to the water being released.

Mitzelfelt said he has been wanting to build a bridge over the river on Rock Springs Road since he was appointed but the cost is too high.

Original estimates to build a permanent bridge when it was washed out in 2004 came in at $15 million.

Utah governor stakes a claim on roads

The idea is to keep the byways open for energy drilling and recreation

By Patty Henetz
The Salt Lake Tribune

Federally posted closure signs on roads that cross federal land in Utah have prompted the Governor's Office to invoke state laws to keep them open. (Associated Press file photo)

Employing a 2-year-old state law for the first time, the Governor's Office is claiming ownership of roads that cross federal lands as a way to keep them open to off-highway recreation and oil and gas drilling.

The maneuver, which relies on a bill sponsored by Kanab Republican Rep. Mike Noel that passed during the 2003 and 2006 legislative sessions, could be a tidy way to skirt federal law.

Or it could set up yet another expensive series of courtroom fights and ratchet up the New West's already intractable civil war over wilderness and access to some of Utah's most beautiful wildlands.

The state law allows counties to record the roads on their master land documents. Federal agencies, organizations and other members of the public have 60 days to protest the action in state court. If no one protests, the county assumes ownership of the right of way.

In its first action under the 2006 Noel bill, the state's Public Lands Policy Coordination Office has sent a list of 60 Class B roads to Box Elder County for recording, and will do the same with 23 more counties by mid-summer, said coordinator John Harja. Salt Lake, Weber, Davis and Cache counties have opted out of the program, and Morgan County doesn't have any affected public lands, he said.

"We're recording [our] belief we have a property interest," Harja said. "We are putting the [U.S. Bureau of Land Management] and the rest of the world on notice."

Heidi McIntosh, conservation director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and an attorney, expressed some wariness about possible legal precedents the state's new efforts could set. During 2006 House floor debate, Rep. Jacki Buskupski, D-Salt Lake City, called the bill an "open invitation to further litigation."

Glenn Carpenter, manager of the BLM's Salt Lake City field office, acknowledged the arguments but wasn't keen to be drawn into the politics of the state's action.

Carpenter was a defendant in a federal court case filed by an OHV group, the Utah Shared Access Alliance, over his decision to close portions of Box Elder County to OHVs in 1999 to protect critical deer and sage grouse habitat. Shared Access Alliance, defeated in district and appellate courts, tried again with the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court refused the case.

Carpenter said he was aware of the 60-road list Harja's office sent to Box Elder County in mid-December, but had no plans to protest. Besides, he said, the U.S. government is sovereign. "We're bound by federal law," he said.

For now, the lists focus on Class B roads, which are graded, graveled, open to general use and generally noncontroversial. Harja said he expected to have all the B roads by mid-summer, and then start on Class D roads.

That's when hostilities between wilderness advocates, energy developers and OHV users could erupt in court, McIntosh said.

Class D roads - which include recognizable two-tracks, but also meandering livestock paths, abandoned pathways oil and gas drillers once used for seismic exploration and even narrow trails across creeks - are the real front lines in the access war, she said.

"People are going to be furious," McIntosh said. "What's driving this is wilderness. That's something the counties have long tried to fight."

Wilderness designation depends in part on the public lands' roadlessness. In opposing wilderness, counties point to generations of driving the disputed byways as a way to continue motorized access on federal lands.

Road claims rest on Revised Statute 2477, a Civil War-era mining law that granted rights of way across public land. Congress repealed the law in 1976, but grandfathered in existing claims. In 2005, a federal appeals court ruled that such ownership claims were dictated by state law. In Utah, that means proving the road was in continual use for 10 years prior to 1976.

The counties have gotten road-claim help from the state, which through the now-defunct Constitutional Defense Council and now the Public Lands Policy office, has spent $9.6 million since 2001 in legal and other fees on road claims, according to Harja. The money, allocated by the Legislature, comes from royalties paid on oil and gas drilling on state land.

Even though public money has supported the Public Lands office's information gathering, and even though the information is being used in both federal lawsuits and the state claims on behalf of the counties, Harja's office won't make the work public before the lists are sent to the recorders. And under a confidentiality agreement crafted in 2000, participating counties are forbidden from sharing the information with the public.

Such evidence was part of a federal lawsuit seeking ownership of old roads across federal land in six rural counties that the state recently withdrew.

Roger Fairbanks, the assistant attorney general who oversees R.S. 2477 claims, said the state abandoned Utah v. United States because the six Class B roads at issue in Beaver, Box Elder, Emery, Uintah, Washington and Wayne counties weren't really threatened with closure.

SUWA agrees with the decision, but will continue to fight the state's federal lawsuits to claim roads in Canyonlands National Park, the San Rafael Swell and the Deep Creek Mountains.

Fairbanks said the state doesn't seek to bulldoze the areas. "We don't want to destroy the environment," he said. "On the other hand, we don't think roads should be closed."

In the west desert Deep Creek Mountains, Snake Valley residents want to drive in Granite Canyon, where about a mile of the road is in a wilderness study area near Ibahpah Creek.

"All the locals want to do is open the road to Camp Ethel," Fairbanks said.

January 27, 2008

Piute Canyon still draws dedicated explorers


Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

The stone ruins of old Fort Piute overlook a spring and vegetation-filled canyon at the eastern edge of the Mojave National Preserve. One of the few sources of reliable water in the Mojave Desert, Piute Spring and its half-mile long stream drew overland travelers for many centuries. Today, the remote site draws only dedicated hikers and back road explorers seeking glimpses of the past.

Visitors approach the canyon and fort on foot, either from the west on roads within the Mojave National Preserve or from U.S. 95 to the east on obscure side roads. Use high-clearance vehicles or those with four-wheel drive.

To reach Piute Canyon from U.S. 95, drive a little more than six miles south of the junction with Highway 163, the road to Laughlin. Watch for a graded road heading west. Follow it about seven miles to a power line road, where you turn north for about a mile and a half. Watch for two rock cairns marking the turnoff onto the canyon road, a very rough track. You may have to park and walk the two miles to the ruins of the 1800s fort near the mouth of the canyon.

Visitors within the preserve follow a graded utility road from the junction of Cedar Canyon Road and Lanfair Road east nine and a half miles to a smaller road leading to a corral. North of the cattle guard, look for rock cairns marking two different foot paths to Piute Canyon, a trip totaling about six and a half miles round-trip. Young people from the California Conservation Corps spent time improving the rough canyon trail last year.

Natives of prehistory visited frequently. Hunters stalked the wildlife attracted to the water and vegetation. Farmers diverted the stream into irrigation channels for their tiny patches of corn, beans, squash and cotton. Seasonally, they gleaned a variety of natural foods and plant products. They left scattered petroglyphs on boulders to mark the importance of the oasis.

The site witnessed a parade led by native groups who established foot trails for long distance trading routes long before the arrival of white settlers. When a Spanish exploration party including Father Francisco Garces ventured into the area seeking a route to the coast in the 1700s, local Mojave and neighboring Chemehueve tribes assisted and accompanied them. The natives met the first exploring fur trappers cordially in the 1820s. Later relations with encroaching whites turned much less hospitable.

The ancient route past Piute Creek carried no stranger travelers than the experimental camel caravan led across the desert in 1857-58 by soldier-surveyor-explorer Edward F. Beale. Camels subsequently served as beasts of burden in arid parts of the West for several decades in the late 1800s, including Nevada.

Although Beale and his camels encountered no hostile natives, an emigrant train across the Colorado River in Arizona was massacred in the fall of 1858. The incident led to the 1859 construction of Camp Colorado, later Fort Mojave, on the river 22 miles east of Piute Canyon. That year, hostiles also attacked a military expedition passing through the canyon. In 1859-60, the army established a chain of redoubts across the Mojave Desert. The first one west of Fort Mojave at Painter [sic] Creek was first called Fort Beale, but later renamed Fort Piute. Outposts to the west about 20 miles apart included forts at Rock Spring and Soda Spring.

Fort Piute housed 18 soldiers and their officers. Ruins of rock-walled buildings, passageways and corrals remain. The thick stone walls contained defensive rifle ports and metal deflecting shields. The larger of two buildings contained three rooms and a fireplace within walls measuring 25 by 60 feet.

The army manned the fort until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. California Volunteers re-manned it in 1863. Returning in 1866, the army used it through 1868. Later, the post became a relay station for the overland mail where stagecoaches changed horse teams. The steep, rough section of government road through Piute Canyon often put passengers afoot, even the sick or wounded. When steamboats began to ply the Colorado River and railroads finally crossed the Mojave, the centuries-old trail became a nearly forgotten path.

January 24, 2008

Justice Department Undercuts Park System for Mojave Cross

Administration Argues Park Service Lacks Authority on Private Land within System

Press Release from
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)

In its latest effort to stop court-ordered removal of an-eight foot cross from the middle of the Mojave National Preserve, the U.S. Justice Department is arguing that the National Park Service has no "authority to manage private land" within the park system, according to court filings released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). If upheld, Justice's position would strip the Park Service of the power to manage an estimated five million acres - about the size of New Jersey - of non-federal lands embedded within the 84 million-acre National Park System.

The legal fight over removal of the Mojave Cross has spanned the tenure of Bush administration. To many, it is the quintessential example of the Bush Justice Department going to extremes to defend display of Christian symbols on federal lands. The case has had many twists and turns, but the courts consistently ruled that the Cross violated First Amendment guarantees against government establishment of religion.

In 2003, the Bush administration supported a scheme to exchange the one federal acre with the Mojave Cross into private hands, within the boundaries of the Mojave National Preserve, California. In September 2007, a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court upheld a district court ruling that the land exchange was "a sham" and a transparent "attempt by the government to evade the permanent injunction enjoining the display of the Latin cross" on federal land.

In response, the Justice Department petitioned the Ninth Circuit for a rehearing on November 20, 2007, arguing, among other things, that the National Park Service lacks authority over lands within national parks that are not federally owned. The petition contends that the Organic Act of 1916 limits Park Service oversight to federal lands and does "not purport to give the Park Service" authority over private lands.

The 84 million-acre national park system contains at least 5 million acres of lands that are not federally owned, including private in-holdings, state and native corporation lands. If the Park Service were to lose management control of these lands it would significantly fragment the national park system.

"Ironically, the Justice Department is representing the Park Service by taking a legal stance that undermines its client's mission," stated PEER Board member Frank Buono, the former deputy superintendent of Mojave National Preserve who brought the suit to remove the Mojave Cross. "In its zeal to protect the Cross, and the constitutional questions that taint it, the Bush administration would cast aside decades of laws and precedents giving the Interior Secretary and National Park Service a degree of control over non-federal lands that lie within the boundaries of the national park system." Buono is represented in the case by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

The Mojave Cross is one of several instances in which the Bush administration has pushed Christian displays and creationist interpretations in national park facilities. This effort, which PEER has called "Faith-Based Parks," appears limited to supporting fundamentalist Christians. For example, a request from another party to install a Buddhist stupa at the site of the Mojave Cross was rejected.

January 22, 2008

Rancho Dos Palmas Gets Historical Designation

Roy Wilson, District 4 Supervisor
Riverside County Board of Supervisors
News Release

The Riverside County Historical Commission voted to designate Rancho Dos Palmas a Historical Site at their meeting on Jan. 17. Dos Palmas, a favorite hangout decades ago for artists, rock hounds and celebrities, is located in the desert just east of North Shore.

An old adobe building is the chief man-made feature on the site, currently owned and managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM has been considering razing the site because of seismic and subsidence issues.

The site also contains other cultural, recreational and habitat resources.

The next step toward historical designation would be a decision by the Board of Supervisors at a future board meeting in Riverside.

“I am now moving forward with the application process for the National Register,” says Dos Palmas champion Jenny Kelly, who is also founder of the East Valley Historical Society and is a member of the North Shore Community Council. “I don’t know what's involved in gaining approval for the National Register, but I have every confidence we meet all the criteria for that designation.”

The East Valley Historical Society is also examining the potential of Hilton's Art & Gem Shop, across Highway 86 from the old Valerie Jean date shop.

“The owner's have requested a written lease proposal for the property. They are leaning towards demolition if we don't come up with a financial arrangement,” Kelly says. “Unfortunately, our fledgling East Valley Historical Society is not in a financial position to lease the property. I’m open to ideas and suggestions.”

The Riverside County Historical Commission is charged with discovering and identifying persons, events and places of historical significance in Riverside County and advises the Board of Supervisors in historical matters. The Commission consists of eleven members, appointed by the Board of Supervisors.

The Historical Commission generally meets at 1:30 p.m. the third Thursday of January, March, May, July, September and November. The agenda gives the meeting location. Occasionally the meeting date will change. The agenda will reflect the new date.

Park District staff provide support to the Historical Commission and can be reached at (951) 955-4306 or (951) 955-4310 or by email at lnorris@co.riverside.ca.us. Mailing address is: Riverside County Historical Commission Riverside County Park District, 4600 Crestmore Road Riverside, CA 92509.

More East Valley Historical Commission info is available in the Oct. 12 story.

January 19, 2008

Busload of locals takes message to feds

By Jutta Biggerstaff
Hi-Desert Star

JOHNSON VALLEY — Public officials in Ontario expressed surprise Jan. 10 when a large contingent of Morongo Basin residents arrived to comment on an environmental impact statement for proposed energy corridors on federal land in 11 western states.

The public comments were heard by representatives from the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Energy and the National Forest Service.

The Morongo Basin delegation included about 70 members of the California Desert Coalition, a group formed to derail the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power plan to carve an 85-mile swath through the Morongo Basin in order to erect transmission towers up to 200 feet tall on public and private land.

According to Johnson Valley resident Jim Harvey, the California Desert Coalition and its supporters filled a bus and then carpooled more people to a public comment meeting held at the Ayres Hotel and Suites in Ontario. The chartered bus trip was coordinated and sponsored by the CDC in partnership with the Wilderness Society.

Harvey said organizers appeared surprised when the large group walked in. About 30 Morongo Basin residents spoke in front of the panel against Green Path North.

The LADWP project would deliver renewable energy from geothermal, wind and solar sources from the Imperial Valley to Los Angeles. The Hi-Desert would reap no direct benefits from the project.

Opponents claim the process would mean destruction to wildlands, disruption of wildlife corridors and reduced quality of life for Morongo Basin residents.

While Green Path North is not now included in the proposed energy corridors that were the subject of the government meeting, John Viola, one of the organizers of the bus trip, said that could change.

“The Green Path North corridor is not included in that document at this time, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be,” he noted. “They’re going to come back with another round after these public comments.”

The CDC essentially used the opportunity to address the government agencies about their concern.

“We wanted to make the point very clear that we are vehemently opposed to Green Path North, and we wanted the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Energy to hear those things so they would not put Green Path North into the document when it becomes finalized,” he said.

Speakers from the Morongo Basin made their message clear, Harvey said.

“Basically it was this: No transmission lines. We don’t want remote generation any more, we want local generation eliminating the need for lines,” he said. “And we want Green Path North to stay off that initiative. We basically told them ‘don’t even think about it.’”

Harvey said he was gratified by the number of residents who traveled to Ontario to let the government know where they stand on the issue of energy corridors. The meeting was punctuated by applause, he said. “We had some good speakers,” he said. “I was really proud of the community. They stepped up.”

Harvey said the successful evening was topped off perfectly when Viola, who helped organize the bus trip, gave each panel member a CDC T-shirt with a logo reading: Stop Green Path North.

January 18, 2008

Conservancy buys 1,000 acres to expand state park

Desert property is near Jacumba

By Anne Krueger STAFF WRITER
San Diego Union Tribune

The Nature Conservancy has bought more than 1,000 acres of desert in the southeastern corner of San Diego County, with plans to use the property to expand Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

The national conservancy organization purchased the $2.3 million property near Jacumba with donations. David Van Cleve, the conservancy's senior project director, said the property was owned by five investors who bought the land intending to develop or sell it. The conservancy intends to sell the land to the state park.

Van Cleve said the property is a critical link between the state park, federal Bureau of Land Management property and land in Baja California. It will provide a habitat for endangered species including bighorn sheep and the Quino checkerspot butterfly, he said.

Van Cleve said the region on both sides of the border is one of five places in the world with the climate and geography to create diverse habitats of chaparral, grasslands and oak and coastal forests.

Van Cleve said the conservancy is meeting with state park officials to discuss selling the land. One person already has donated $900,000 toward the sale, he said.

Mark Jorgensen, superintendent of Anza-Borrego, said that park officials are interested in the property but that its purchase will depend on resolution of the state budget crisis. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed closing 48 state parks to save $14.3 million.

“We're going into hard budget times, so we'll have to find funds dedicated to” buying the land, he said.

Jorgensen said the purchase allows the land to be preserved until the state can buy it. Developers are already eyeing other parts of Jacumba. On 1,250 acres near the town center, a developer is proposing a project with 2,125 homes.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, with more than 600,000 acres, is the largest state park in the contiguous United States. Jorgensen said the addition of the property to the park would help ensure that wildlife can move freely between the United States and Mexico.

“It would be a pretty sad day to think we were cutting off that movement with triple fences and continued development,” he said.

January 16, 2008

Park Service airs complaint against proposed coal plant

Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

The National Park Service says the $3.8 billion, coal-fired power plant that Nevada utilities propose to build near Ely is "unacceptable" because it would damage air and water quality and would interfere with scenic views in the Great Basin National Park.

"Like a clean white page, the relatively clear air in the Great Basin can be marred easily," wrote Paul DePrey, park superintendent.

DePrey made the comment in a Jan. 9 letter to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection in response to the draft air permit the division has issued for the 1,500-megawatt Ely Energy Center. The center is a project of Sierra Pacific Power Co. and Nevada Power Co.

The division can issue a final permit without substantial changes in the draft document, amend the permit or deny it after reviewing comments about the power plant.

Utility spokesman Adam Grant said: "We agree with NDEP's initial filing that the Ely Energy Center meets all existing air quality standard regulations. This is all part of the NDEP environmental process, and we're not going to comment any further."

Division spokesman Dante Pistone said NDEP does not give comments from federal agencies any more weight than from others.

"As a rule, we normally don't comment on the comments," Pistone said.

The division may take six months or more before deciding on the Ely Energy Center air permit application, he said.

The park service's letter says that coal-fired power plants in Utah appear to cause a brown-yellow haze after long periods of northeasterly winds.

"Fortunately, winds are seldom northeasterly for long periods," DePrey said. "If similar pollution sources were built to the west, the parks visibility would be affected more frequently. White Pine County's night skies are among the darkest in the country."

Air pollution would scatter light in the night sky and cause less visibility.

"Dark night skies, for the first time in history, are becoming an extinct phenomenon," he said.

Acid rain could affect life on land and in lakes in the Great Basin, he said.

Charles Benjamin, a spokesman for the Nevada Clean Energy Campaign, a group that opposes the power plant, supported the park service's arguments.

The state agency, as the delegate of the Environmental Protection Agency, is legally charged with "preserving, protecting and enhancing national parks and wilderness areas," Benjamin said.

"The draft (air) permit doesn't do enough to protect the park," he said.

Benjamin criticized the state division for failing to consider the combined air pollution from the 1,600-megawatt coal plant under development by LS Power Group and from the Ely center.

Some Ely residents last week told the division they wanted the jobs that would come with the Ely center, but Benjamin said the division may not consider job creation as a factor in approving an air permit.

Voices against power path grow

By JUTTA BIGGERSTAFF / Special to The Trail
Twentynine Palms Desert Trail

YUCCA VALLEY — Exclamations of dismay rang among the crowd Saturday night, Jan. 5 as Dave Miller of the California Desert Coalition presented his renderings of what Green Path North would do to scenic vistas in the Morongo Basin.

Miller superimposed huge transmission towers onto photos of desert panoramas, depicting the lines snaking through canyons and topping buttes.

The Los Angeles Department of Power and Water Green Path North project would carve an 118-mile swath through the desert in order to erect transmission towers up to 200 feet tall on public and private land. The towers would deliver renewable electricity from geothermal, wind and solar sources from the Imperial Valley to Los Angeles.

However, Miller informed the crowd that the infrastructure to support the project has not yet been built.

Eighty-five miles of the transmission lines would traverse a corridor from Desert Hot Springs through environmentally sensitive areas in the Hi-Desert to Hesperia. The process would mean destruction to unspoiled desert, disruption of wildlife corridors and reduced quality of life for human desert dwellers, the California Desert Coalition argues.

Opposition to the plan from the Morongo Basin and surrounding Hi-Desert is growing, Miller said.

Communities passing resolutions to take a stand against the project include Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms, Joshua Tree, Landers, Pioneertown and Lucerne Valley.

Last month, in a resolution proposed by Supervisor Dennis Hansberger, the county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to oppose the project.

“The county is very proud of this whole area because of the huge investment that’s been made with the (Morongo Valley) preserve, with the park and with the Wildlands Conservancy holdings,” Miller said. “This area is very well protected, privately and publicly, and for LADWP to brazenly overlook that in its plans to run these power lines through was really a blow to our county representatives.”

Corridor already laid on Intertate 10

According to Miller, though the plan for Green Path North has been in the works for more than two years, the LADWP still claims the process is in its early stages and no route has been decided on. However, the California Desert Coalition’s research has discovered nine survey markers in the Morongo Basin that LADWP continues to disavow, he said.

Several other energy corridors, including along Interstate 10, already exist and, according to Miller, the LADWP already owns a shorter, more direct route. The California Desert Coalition wondered why the power company didn’t use that one.

“The answer we got back is the I-10 is way too crowded, but recently California Desert Coalition co-chair April Sall had a conversation with Southern California Edison, who told April, ‘We have capacity, there’s no problem,’” Miller said. “The problem is, LADWP wants to own this line, they don’t want to do business with SCE.”

The point his coalition is making, Miller explained, is there are existing corridors and alternative routes could be used to deliver the power.

“If we shut this down we’re not shutting down green power, we’re not attacking the whole notion of having renewable energy replacing coal and dirty energy,” he emphasized. “That is not the battle we’re fighting. We’re fighting this particular Green Path North/LADWP project.”

Landfill fighter: Don’t give up

Guest speaker for the evening was Larry Charpied, who, along with his wife, Donna, has continually thwarted plans for the proposed Eagle Mountain Landfill near their home in Desert Center.

The site is surrounded on three sides by Joshua Tree National Park. If built, railroad cars and trucks would deliver 20,000 tons of garbage each day to the site for the next 117 years.

The Charpieds moved to “the middle of nowhere” to start a jojoba farm in 1982, but their idyllic plans were disrupted in the late ’80s when the Kaiser Corporation initiated its plan to develop an old mine site into what would be the world’s largest trash dump. The issue continues to be argued in the federal courts.

The plain-speaking, benign-looking activist recounted the couple’s 20-year battle to protect their home, their lifestyle and the environment. His advice to the CDC: Never give up.

Of note: The trash that would fill the Eagle Mountain Landfill would come from Los Angeles.

Opponent portrays plan as devilish

During the Q-and-A portion of the meeting, coalition volunteer Alana Ponder described an idea that came to her on her daily drive along Twentynine Palms Highway.

Her thought was to build a large sign that would show people what the towers would look like and to serve as a reminder that if nothing is done to stop Green Path North, those lines would forever mar the scenic vistas of the Morongo Basin.

“I’m worried that so many people don’t know it’s coming,” she explained.

Ponder personified her picture of an LADWP tower by giving it eyes, what could be either ears or horns, and an evil demeanor.

Comments from departing audience members were positive and most expressed determination to derail Green Path. Sales of CDC T-shirts and bumper stickers were brisk.

Janice Pask of Yucca Valley said she thought the meeting was informative.

Eminent Domain Reform Qualifies for June Ballot

Threatened Home and Business Owners Cheer


SACRAMENTO, Calif., -- Today, a broad-based coalition of California property owners announced that the California Secretary of State has certified the qualification of the "California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act" for the June 2008 ballot. In November of last year, a coalition of home and business owners, family farmers and taxpayer groups submitted over 1.1 million signatures.

"Government should not be able to profit by seizing private property from unwilling sellers for retail or commercial projects," said former Sacramento Congressman and campaign finance chair Doug Ose. "Finally, Californians will have the opportunity to vote for real reforms that protect their homes, small businesses, family farms and places of worship from eminent domain abuse."

While over 40 states have reformed their eminent domain laws since the 2005 U.S. Kelo v. New London decision, California is not among them. While reforms have not come in time to protect some, local property owners in the Southern California community of Baldwin Park and the Northern California community of Seaside cheer the news that voters will have the chance to consider real reforms on the June 2008 ballot.

According to local residents, the City of Baldwin Park is expediting eminent domain proceedings to demolish over 500 homes and small businesses in an area of approximately 125 football fields. A letter from the developer to the city states that their investors are concerned this ballot measure threatens their project and urges the city to seize the properties before Election Day. The thousands of dollars in campaign contributions used to influence the outcome of the last city election has also prompted standing room only protests at city hall.

"The City of Baldwin Park is using eminent domain to seize my home for a development project that benefits a politically connected developer," said homeowner Ms. Cruz Baca Sembello. "They should not be able to take my home. Where are my rights?"

In the Northern California community of Seaside, property owner Tim Cunha is among hundreds of property owners fighting the city council and the developer, former baseball legend Reggie Jackson.

"I never thought that something like this could happen to me," said Tim Cunha. "Government should not be able to profit by seizing private property from unwilling sellers. It shows what little regard government has for the personal and financial costs associated with throwing us out on the streets."

The California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act, is sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California Farm Bureau Federation and the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights. The measure prohibits private to private takings, while allowing traditional uses of eminent domain for roads, schools and water projects. It is endorsed by NFIB, the Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, the Black Chamber of Commerce and a diverse coalition of taxpayer, faith and good government organizations. To qualify for the June ballot, 694,354 valid signatures were required. For more campaign information, visit www.yesonpropertyrights.com.

SOURCE: Californians for Property Rights Protection

January 15, 2008

Body found in Mojave National Preserve possible suicide

By Aaron Aupperlee, city editor
Desert Dispatch

CIMA — The body of a 26-year-old man was found inside a vehicle by a park ranger working in the Mojave National Preserve Monday evening.

The cause of death is still unknown pending an investigation, but officials within the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s-Coroner Department suspect it may be suicide.

“We started looking at suicide as the initial mode,” said Sandy Fatland, a spokeswoman for the coroner’s office.

The man’s name will not be released until the family has been notified, Fatland said. The car is registered out of Glendale, Ariz., the sheriff’s report stated. Fatland said the man appears to be a reserve officer in the military. His last residence is not known.

The ranger found the body near the intersection of Cedar Canyon Road and Kelso Cima Road in Cima, about 15 miles south of Mountain Pass, at 5:12 p.m. Initial reports speculated that the body had been in the vehicle for awhile, however Fatland said there was no evidence yet to indicate how long the body had been dead.

The Barstow sheriff’s station is investigating. Anyone with information can call the station at 256-4838. People with information that wish to remain anonymous can call WeTip at 1-800-78-CRIME or leave information on the WeTip Web site at www.wetip.com.

January 12, 2008

Mojave lizard may rate protection

The U.S. will study whether the Mojave fringe-toed lizard merits federal protection

From the Associated Press
Los Angeles Times

LAS VEGAS -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to study whether a lizard population in a stretch of Mojave Desert in eastern Nevada [sic] and western California [sic] should be listed as threatened or endangered. A notice published Thursday in the Federal Register begins a 12-month review of whether the Amargosa River population of the Mojave fringe-toed lizard merits federal protection.

Officials with the Center for Biological Diversity, who filed a petition in April 2006 seeking the review, called the study overdue.

The Tucson, Ariz.-based organization blames the lizard's dwindling numbers on off-road vehicle traffic in the lizards' sand-dune habitat in and near Death Valley National Park.

"Although the lizard can evade predators and extreme midday heat by using its fringed toes to swiftly bury itself in the fine sands of the dunes," the center said in a statement, "it remains close enough to the surface that it is still vulnerable to death or injury from off-road vehicles' sand-digging tires."

Losers in Boulder land dispute file appeal

'It's unfair what happened to us. We're going to fight on'

© 2008 WorldNetDaily.com

A Boulder couple who watched a judge give nearly one-third of their building lot in a pricy residential development to a neighbor who claimed using it has filed an appeal of the decision.

The Denver Post said Don and Susie Kirlin are attempting to reclaim the nearly one-third of their residential property in Boulder that a neighbor won in October in a court ruling in an "adverse possession" lawsuit.

The neighbors, former District Judge Richard McLean, and wife Edith Stevens, a lawyer, were awarded ownership of the chunk of property after arguing they had maintained the property for more than 25 years.

Colorado's adverse possession law allows those who "openly and notoriously" maintain property that is not their own for many years eventually to claim title to it.

The appeal focuses on arguments by the Kirlins that McLean and Stevens failed to meet the burden of proof needed to be awarded ownership, and that Judge James Klein, who issued the controversial ruling, erred in his decision.

A significant part of the foundation for the decision was the allegation by McLean and Stevens that they built and used a dirt path on the Kirlins' property for many years.

The appeal contends that Klein failed to determine the date of construction for the path, and since witnesses offered differing accounts, it might not substantiate the claim by McLean and Stevens.

The division of the small residential lot, according to the Kirlins, makes the remainder too small for the retirement home the couple hoped to build there.

The Kirlins estimate their losses in the case at about $800,000.

The legal action had generated considerable criticism, but the president of the Boulder County Bar Association, Sonny Flowers, suggested those who object to the results are "dumb, short-sighted, lacking in perspective or just plain wrong."

The Boulder Camera also noted that the case wasn't the first time a former Boulder judge used the law to win land from a neighbor.

"Earlier this year (2007), the secretary of the Indian Peaks chapter of the Sierra Club and his wife lost about 100 square feet of their property to Marsha Yeager, a former judge, and her husband, John Yeager," the newspaper reported.

That case involved Kirk Cunningham and his wife, Cosima Krueger-Cunningham, who were concerned about property lines, and began a process to have them verified. Their neighbors, the Yeagers, instead argued that since they had "taken the responsibility" for a rock wall, it and the land on which the wall sits should belong to them. The court battle took five years, and they won in the 2007 conclusion.

"The principal lesson for the public in all this is, in a place like Boulder where property values are skyrocketing, you need to make sure you know where your property lines are and keep your neighbors on notice – preferably with legal help," Cunningham told the paper.

The latest dispute already has been enshrined in Boulder lore by Don Wrege, a Boulder singer and songwriter, who wrote a song titled, "Edie and Dick (The Grinch Theme).

Stevens also told National Public Radio she and her husband are feeling "pretty beleaguered" by the fierce public opposition to the couple's case, which overcame testimony from the Kirlins that they paid taxes of about $16,000 a year, plus $65 a month homeowner association dues, to maintain the undeveloped land.

January 10, 2008

Budget slashes impact two desert parks

Sacramento Bureau

Mitchell Caverns walkway

SACRAMENTO - Gov. Schwarzenegger released a spending plan Thursday that would slash money for schools, close several Inland state parks and release thousands of prisoners early to solve an estimated $14.5 billion shortfall over the next 18 months.

Parks Hit

Under governor's budget plan, three of 10 Inland state parks would be closed indefinitely and Mount San Jacinto State Park would lose one of its two campgrounds near Idyllwild.

The desert park closures would be the Salton Sea State Recreation Area on the east side of the desert lake; and Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, known for its Mitchell Caverns, the only limestone caverns in the state park system.

Coleman said the parks would be mothballed until there is enough funding to reopen them. They won't be sold, she said.

Terry Wold, conservation coordinator for the Inland chapter of the Sierra Club, said the proposal would generate widespread criticism from hikers, campers, mountain bikers and equestrians.

"They keep cutting us off more and more," she said. "I don't even know what to say."

Some Republicans were suspicious that the proposal to close the parks, a tiny piece of a $101 billion general fund, is meant to generate support for a tax increase.

"I'm not buying that the sky is falling. The first blush of this may be more politics than practical reality," said Assemblyman John J. Benoit, R-Bermuda Dunes.

Proposed Energy Corridors Threaten 1000 Acres of California Public Lands

Public Meeting Scheduled for January 10 in Ontario, CA


Denver (January 10, 2008) - The Mojave National Preserve, the California Desert Conservation Area, and the Pacific Crest, California, and Old Spanish trails could all be home to gas, oil and hydrogen pipelines and electric transmission facilities if the Department of Energy's plan to designate energy corridors though public land in 11 Western states moves ahead. Proposed corridors would also cut through or run along the border of many areas proposed for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System.

"Although the Energy Department has made significant improvements in their proposed corridor designations, the proposed corridors still lack thorough consideration of the likely damage to federal lands and other places," said The Wilderness Society's Nada Culver, who has tracked the process since it began. "The proposal would have stark impacts for California's special places. Here and elsewhere, the Energy Department needs to come up with alternatives to minimize the number of corridors and maximize use of renewable energy, and it should include firm requirements to limit all projects to designated corridors."

The U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Energy, and Interior are conducting a series of public meetings in January and February on the West-wide Energy Corridor Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). The first California meetings were Tuesday in Sacramento and the next will be tomorrow (Thursday, January 10) in Ontario CA at 2-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.

"This proposal threatens to undermine years of conservation efforts to protect the California Desert Conservation Area and other wild places throughout the state," said Brent Schoradt of the California Wilderness Coalition. "The draft plan fails to provide conservation guidelines or protection for California's treasured wild places."

The November 2007 "West-wide Energy Corridor Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement" (DPEIS) was issued by the Departments of Energy, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and Defense as outlined in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The plan proposes more than 6,000 miles of energy corridors through public land in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. Unless otherwise specified, the corridors would have a width of 3,500 feet (2/3 of a mile).

The agencies' west-wide proposed plan threatens to carve huge habitat-fragmenting corridors through hundreds of thousands of acres of public land, including national recreation areas, monuments, wildlife refuges, and more. The corridors are planned to "accommodate multiple pipelines (such as for oil, gas, or hydrogen), electricity transmission lines, and related infrastructure, such as access and maintenance roads, compressors, pumping stations, and other structures." Once these corridors are designated, energy companies will then push to "connect the dots" between far-flung segments of public land over thousands of miles of private and state lands, such as state parks and wildlife areas.

Public Meetings
January 10 at 2-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.
Ayres Hotel & Suites
1945 East Hold Blvd.
Ontario CA

Source: The Wilderness Society

January 9, 2008

Ivanpah Dry Lake Solar Energy Public Meeting

BLM Announces Additional Public Scoping Meeting

Bureau of Land Management Press Release

BLM Announces Additional Public Scoping Meeting for Ivanpah Solar Energy Project
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announces a second public scoping meeting and an extension to the formal scoping period to solicit comments on the impacts of a proposed solar energy project in the California Desert. BLM published a notice of intent (NOI) to prepare an environmental impact statement in the Federal Register on November 6, 2007 indicating they will advertise and conduct public scoping meetings to hear about issues for the proposed Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS). The BLM formal scoping process that began with publication of the NOI in the Federal Register has been extended to run through January 31, 2008.

The BLM and the California Energy Commission (CEC) are conducting a joint environmental review process of the ISEGS project. The BLM and CEC planned to conduct a joint informational hearing and scoping meeting on January 4th. Adverse weather conditions cancelled many flights and the CEC had to postpone the hearing until January 25th. The BLM did conduct a scoping meeting but felt it was important to provide additional opportunities for members of the public that may not have had the chance to attend on January 4th. The CEC and BLM will hold another joint hearing and scoping meeting to gather public input during this early stage of the project.

The proposed Ivanpah SEGS project consists of three concentrating solar-powered steam, electricity generating plants and related facilities, covering about 3,400 acres of public lands in San Bernardino County, 4.5 miles southwest of Primm, Nevada. The project is entirely located on public lands and proposes to produce up to 400 megawatts of electricity.

This additional BLM scoping meeting will be conducted jointly with a CEC informational hearing and at the following time and location:

Date: January 25, 2008
Time: 12:15 p.m. site visit (transportation provided)
1:00 p.m. Commission informational hearing/BLM scoping meeting
Location: Primm Valley Golf Club, 4 mi SW Primm, NV, take Yates Well Rd. Exit I-15

Brief presentations describing the project and the review process will be made by the proponent, Solar Partners, LLC, and by the agencies after which a public comment period will be provided. Additionally written comments may be submitted by January 31, 2008, to the BLM’s Needles Field Office, attention George R. Meckfessel, Planning and Environmental Coordinator, 1303 South U.S. Highway 95, Needles, Calif., 92363-4228, or by fax (760)326-7099 or by e-mail ca690@ca.blm.gov attention Ivanpah SEGS.

For further information contact Tom Hurshman, BLM project manager (970)240-5345 or send an email message to tom_hurshman@blm.gov attention Ivanpah SEGS.

January 6, 2008

Local fish species on the rebound

Bob Hilburn, a Bureau of Land Management volunteer site steward and educator, checks the water temperature of an aquarium full of Mohave tui chub on Saturday. Photo by David Heldreth

By David Heldreth, staff writer
Desert Dispatch

BARSTOW — The Mohave tui chub is just looking for a home.

The Mohave tui chub is the only fish that is native to the Mojave River system, but it can’t be found there anymore. They were even one of the first animals protected when the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973.

However, you can get a glimpse of the rare fish at the Desert Discovery Center on Barstow Road. While there you might even catch Bob Hilburn, a volunteer site steward and educator for the Bureau of Land Management, during a feeding.

“We have three aquariums at the Discovery Center,” Hilburn said. “Two have the Mohave tui chub and one has the Arroyo. I just do what the scientists tell me to, feed them and take the water temperature.”

The Mohave tui chub lost their original home to predators, competition with introduced fish species and possibly hybridization according to Debra Hughson a science advisor for the Mojave National Preserve. Hughson and a group of scientists are working on a new study at the DDC. The goal of the study is to create a stable Mohave tui chub population and determine if they could hybridize. The study has several steps and could take more than seven years.

“We’re in the first stages now,” Hughson said. “We need to see if the Mohave can create hybrids, and if they do are the hybrids viable. They could be sterile like other hybrids such as a mule. If so it would be easier to reintroduce the Mohave.”

The Mohave tui chub were thought to have bred with the Arroyo Chub, an introduced species, and no longer exist in a pure form. However, a little luck and the development of the field of genetics have proven that to be untrue. A small population of fish were discovered by Curtis Springer, the founder of the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa, in the nearby waters in the 1940s. Springer then introduced some of those fish into his manmade Lake Tuendae at Zzyzx. Sixty years later genetic testing proved that the fish Springer found were pure Mohave tui chub.

It is believed that one of the times the Mojave River flooded a group of Mohave tui chub were carried into the Zzyzx area, and were stranded there as the waters receded creating the refuge. All Mohave tui chub in existence today are descendants of the fish Springer found.

“It is pure chance that Springer took care of the Mohave,” Hughson said. “The introduction of the Arroyo chub pushed them out of the river. Curtis Springer saved them from complete extinction without knowing what he was doing.”

The study being done at the DDC is also part of the first step toward down listing the Mohave tui chub from endangered to threatened. A species needs to have at least six stable populations for five years before it can be down listed. There are currently three populations in existence with one at Zzyzx, one at Fort Cady and one at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Hughson said as the study at the DDC expands it should produce enough Mohave tui chub to be considered a population and only two more would be needed.

Having the study at the DDC also allows for the public to get to know the Mohave tui chub better. Hilburn has been part of that effort. Hilburn said the DDC has been working on a curriculum to teach elementary kids about the fish to try and instill the importance of preservation.

The Desert Discovery Center is open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

January 5, 2008

Nature may play role in Arctic thaw

Science in brief

From Los Angeles Times Staff and Wire Reports

There's more to the recent dramatic and alarming thawing of the Arctic region than can be explained by human-caused global warming alone, a new study says. Nature is pushing the Arctic to the edge too.

There's a natural cause that may account for much of the Arctic warming, which has melted sea ice, ice sheets and glaciers, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Nature.

New research points a finger at a natural and cyclical increase in the amount of energy in the atmosphere that moves from south to north around the Arctic Circle.

January 2, 2008

FEMA reimburses CDF for fire costs

The Sawtooth fire as seen from a hill in Yucca Valley. The road below is Highway 62. Photo by Westerberg

Lauren McSherry, Staff Writer
San Bernardino Sun

A year and a half after the Sawtooth Fire burned in the desert west of Yucca Valley, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Wednesday it is granting more than $8.8million to reimburse the state forestry agency for costs incurred fighting the wildfire.

The money will be given to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection through the Fire Management Grant Assistance Program.

Under the program, FEMA covers 75 percent of the cost of fighting fires on public and private land that could constitute a major disaster. The state is left to make up the remaining 25 percent.

The Sawtooth Fire started on July 9, 2006, and was not contained until July 18. It swept across about 61,700 acres and threatened houses in Pioneertown, Yucca Valley and parts of the Morongo Basin.

Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the CDF in Sacramento, declined to comment on how the money would be spent, but said it is routine to apply for the grant anytime there is an evacuation in conjunction with a major wildland fire.

Kelly Hudson, a FEMA spokeswoman, said the money is typically used to restore an agency's budget after local firefighters and other groups that helped battle the fire are paid.

She said the state agency had about a year to submit the application, which requires thorough documentation of expenses.

"It's not that the locals went unpaid," Hudson said. "They were paid. We're reimbursing the state agency."

The money could go toward the cost of field camps, the repair and replacement of equipment, tools, materials and supplies as well as mobilization and demobilization activities, according to FEMA.

Money for the grant program is allocated from the President's Disaster Relief Fund.

"FEMA is committed to assisting firefighters in getting them the critical resources they need to respond quickly and effectively to the unpredictability of wildfires," said FEMA Region IX Administrator Nancy Ward in a statement.