August 10, 2009

Feinstein's office updates mayor on preserve plans

Gomez brings up off-road vehicles, solar energy

Desert Dispatch

BARSTOW • Mayor Joe Gomez and a representative with Senator Feinstein’s office met last week to discuss off-highway vehicle use, alternative energy projects and the expansion of protected lands in the Mojave Desert.

Gomez met with Chris Carrillo, a representative from Feinstein’s Los Angeles office, who gave him an update on the proposed legislation to set up a national monument between Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve on Wednesday.

Concerned about the large number of proposed wind and solar energy projects in the eastern Mojave Desert, Feinstein announced her intention to convert hundreds of thousands of acres of former railroad-owned land, known as the Catellus land acquisition, to a national monument in March, according to a press release issued by her office March 18.

Legislation on the proposed monument hasn’t been finalized yet, said Laura Wilkinson, a spokesperson with the senator’s office. Feinstein’s representatives are currently discussing proposed legislation with stakeholders, she said.

During Gomez’s meeting with Carrillo, the mayor reiterated his support and the city’s support for alternative energy exploration in the surrounding areas, Gomez said. Gomez also talked to Carrillo about the importance off-highway vehicle use to Barstow’s economy.

“It’s a tax revenue for the city,” Gomez said, adding that Feinstein’s office set the meeting up with him to update him on her monument bill. “That’s one thing I’d like to really promote as far as bringing more people to the area.”

Gomez also said Carrillo brought maps with him showing what the senator’s legislation would consist of.

According to David Lamfrom, California desert representative for the National Parks Conservation Association, the monument is being proposed to protect what was the largest single private land purchase. The parcel of land was given to the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management, he said, with the understanding that the land would be used for conservation. Much of it is located south of Route 66.

Lamfrom said people come from all over the world to view the area’s mountains, dune areas and wildlife. One of the reasons for the proposed legislation, he said, is to prevent large-scale solar projects from being built in that area.

“There’s a right and a wrong place for solar development,” he said. “There are a lot of other better places for solar than within our most precious areas.”

Gomez said Feinstein was in the area a few months ago about her bill, but he didn’t get to meet her. He will look at the maps Carrillo left before deciding whether or not to support the proposed legislation.