December 1, 2010

Board Accepts Grant for Victor Valley Museum

Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt
Mitzelfelt Memo

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors authorized the County Museum to receive a grant to fund programs at the soon-to-reopen Victor Valley Museum in Apple Valley at 11873 Apple Valley Road.

"The museum will provide educational outreach programs to at least 1,500 students in 20 schools throughout the Victor Valley," said Supervisor Mitzelfelt. "Funds will also be used to purchase equipment and supplies to develop and present public programs at the Victor Valley Branch Museum, reaching more than 1,250 residents in a series of Family Fun Days and informal gallery programs."

The County Museum will receive $9,000 of Community Foundation grant funds from the San Bernardino County Museum Association to serve High Desert residents during in-school "Museums on the Road" programs. The County Museum has received this grant funding annually since 2005. Starting this year, funds will also be used to develop and provide public programs at the newly acquired and remodeled Victor Valley Branch Museum in Apple Valley.

The Victor Valley Museum, first opened in 1993, was donated to the county in January 2010. With funds provided mostly by Supervisor Mitzelfelt, the County Museum immediately began renovating the facility to align the museum with the County Museum's important American Association of Museums accreditation standards. All collections, exhibits and programs are being evaluated and refurbished to present the cultural and natural heritage of the High Desert region in a way that supports state educational standards.

The effort to renovate a 14,000-square-foot facility is no small assignment. Crews are currently making the museum compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. New flooring and lighting have been installed, and the interior and exterior have been repainted. The thousands of collection objects are being evaluated; school programs are being developed, and 95 percent of the exhibited elements have been completed.

Once crews are done with the renovations, museum staff will need a month to populate the interior with exhibitions. Reopening is anticipated for January 2011.

November 30, 2010

Boxer, Reid huddle over strategy for massive resources bill

Colleagues enlist Reid's help with last-ditch push for massive water, lands, wildlife package

By Paul Quinlan, John McArdle and Patrick Reis
E and E Publishing

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Harry Reid (D-NV)

The full-court press is on to assemble and pass a monumental package of waterways, public lands and wildlife bills in the final days of this Congress.

Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last night to discuss packaging a slew of waterways bills that won bipartisan endorsements from her committee with measures that emerged with similarly broad-based support from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee aimed at protecting more than 2 million acres and creating new national parks, monuments, wilderness areas and wildlife sanctuaries.

"It was great," Boxer said of her meeting with Reid. "What we're doing is we're talking to the Republicans now who voted for all the bills in my committee to see if they will go along with doing a package of bills."
Boxer added it was unlikely that such a bill could pass the Senate with unanimous support; thus, work is under way to obtain the necessary 60 votes.

"I think we have a good chance because they are bipartisan bills," Boxer said.

Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle declined to discuss the meeting's outcome but said a package was possible. "We do not discuss private meetings, but this is on a list of possible items for consideration this work period," she said in an e-mail.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee's National Parks Subcommittee, said his committee's bills have "broad support" and that he was working down a list of Republican colleagues to ask if they would be supportive.

"There's a lot of conversation occurring right now," Udall said. "There's been a lot of hard work the last two years, and it would be disappointing, to say the least, if a lot of these targeted bills died because the Senate couldn't find the time to move them forward."

Others, like Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who sits on Boxer's committee and hopes to pass a Great Lakes bill he is co-sponsoring as part of the package, spoke more pessimistically about the odds of success in a badly divided Senate chamber with an already swamped agenda for the lame-duck session.

"I think it's a problem getting anything done at this stage in the game," Voinovich said. "Anything now is going to be tough."

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who wants to include a Chesapeake Bay bill that would backstop the Obama administration's ambitious, U.S. EPA-led effort to clamp down on farm and stormwater pollution, also warned of the long odds.

"Lame ducks are always uncertain," Cardin said. His bill, the most controversial of the waterways bills, eventually won bipartisan committee support after negotiations with the GOP. "Significant changes were made because of their concerns. I think we got it right."

Environmental groups continue to push for action on what they say would be a landmark package. The waterways bills up for consideration, which sailed through Boxer's committee in June, would protect and restore the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, Long Island Sound, Gulf of Mexico and San Francisco Bay. Most would authorize, but do not appropriate, money for EPA to set up new program offices relating to the major waterways, award grants and increase accountability.

The Pew Charitable Trusts is running an ad in tomorrow's editions of Roll Call and Politico that will urge Republicans and Democrats to pass the bipartisan wilderness legislation, which the ad says would "give permanent protection to more than two million acres of breathtaking landscapes in thirteen states -- from Washington State's Alpine Lakes to Idaho's Boulder-White Clouds to Tennessee's Upper Bald River."

"Hunters, anglers, business leaders, conservationists and other local citizens who've worked together to get these measures this far are counting on Congress to take action before it adjourns," the ad says, against a backdrop of New Mexico's Organ Mountains, which include lands in line to receive protection.

November 25, 2010

Demolition crews take down Carl Bray house

The Carl Bray House and Gallery was demolished and will soon be replaced with an “interpretive exhibit” to showcase artifacts from the historic site. (Courtesy of the City of Indian Wells)

Mariecar Mendoza
The Desert Sun

The last of the Carl Bray House and Gallery has been torn down to replace what the Indian Wells City Council called an “attractive nuisance” with a safer alternative.

Demolition of the more than 50-year-old building began last week, with final work completed Wednesday, Indian Wells officials said.

On Nov. 4, the City Council approved the demolition and gave the green light for city staff to move forward with work on an “interpretive exhibit” to showcase artifacts from the historic site.

The demolition was the result of more than a year of debate between city officials and residents who wanted to preserve the historic building.

The building was named after Bray, an artist known nationally for his desert landscapes and smoke tree paintings and has been a staple of the city since the early 1950s.

The city purchased the 14,148-square-foot site in January 2009 for nearly $260,000 claiming the structure posed a “safety hazard.”

The city spent $56,000 for the environmental impact report and legal services needed to ensure a vetted process.

The demolition cost about $58,000, said Community Development Director Corrie Kates.

Had the city decided to rehabilitate the building, city officials said it would have cost an estimated $960,000.

“We tried our best to save something of old Indian Wells,” said Adele Ruxton, president of the Indian Wells Historic Preservation Foundation, who fought to preserve the historic site.

“I hope that whatever appears as the interpretive exhibit on the Carl Bray site really depicts not only the artist who lived and worked there, but tells the story of old Indian Wells when it was but an Indian Village.”

November 24, 2010

Dennis Schramm to Retire

Mojave National Preserve
NPS Digest

Dennis Schramm, Superintendent of Mojave National Preserve for the last five years and a 33-year-veteran of the National Park Service (NPS), is retiring on December 3rd .

Dennis completes 12 years at the Preserve, including seven years as a management assistant, from 1995 to 2002, a tenure that spans the first seven years of the park’s existence.

He began his NPS career in the Denver Service Center in February 1978 as an environmental specialist and planner. In his park service career, he worked in three California parks, including Lava Beds National Monument, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and the Preserve. His career also includes assignments in the Alaska Regional Office and at the park service’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Dennis especially prizes his eight years in Alaska, where he was fortunate to travel throughout the state working on mining and hazmat issues in the parks. He is particularly proud of the extensive hazmat clean-up work that was completed in Denali National Park & Preserve, Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve.

Dennis served on the National Wilderness Steering Committee during his tenure in Washington, D.C., and he was pleased to be part of the team that rewrote management policies in 2005. Dennis also lead a national team of planners in the development of the updated management planning policies and handbook and, in particular, the new planning training course for NPS.

Dennis was honored to be assigned to duty in Washington, D.C., in 2007 to help develop plans for the celebration of the parks national centennial in 2016. He also was privileged to serve as deputy superintendent at Yosemite National Park in 2009. Other assignments included serving as the Pacific West Region superintendent representative to the Natural Resource Advisory Group for three years and, most recently, as NPS representative on the Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative initiative.

Dennis is proud of his five years as superintendent at Mojave and of the many accomplishments of his dedicated staff. His management of the Preserve focused on building support for the park, on turning around troubled relationships with stakeholders, and on starting the first friends group for the Preserve. He was also extensively involved in external issues and in working across agency boundaries on landscape scale conservation.

Dennis has extensive experience in the Mojave Desert through his NPS assignments and his formal education and a deep life-long connection, having grown up in the Mojave. He was reared mostly in Las Vegas and attended undergraduate and graduate school at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Dennis had the good fortune to conduct his graduate studies in Death Valley, studying the plants of the Black Mountains.

He and his wife, Marcia, also an NPS employee, have three grown children. They plan to relocate to the Denver area in the spring of 2011 where they can be closer to their grandson, Mason.

November 7, 2010

Acres may be fenced off for protection of endangered plant

By KAREN JONAS, staff writer
Barstow Desert Dispatch

NEAR FORT IRWIN • About 14,000 acres of land near Fort Irwin could be fenced off and closed to off-roading in order to protect an endangered plant if a proposed critical habitat plan is approved.

The Lane Mountain milk-vetch is a perennial plant in the pea family that grows only in the west Mojave Desert north of Barstow. Fish and Wildlife Services is proposing to designate a total of 14,069 acres for protection of the plant in two separate areas.

Some off-roading enthusiasts are upset that the land is being fenced off and believe that the desert should not be closed to off-roading.

“Off-roading is the way of the desert,” said Mike McCain of Barstow. “That’s how you get around.”

McCain is a member of the American Motorcyclist Association and has put in a complaint about the potential critical habitat area. He also said that he has found the milk-vetch plant in a different area that will not be considered part of the critical habitat area.

The public comment period on the economic impact of the critical habitat proposal will be open until Dec. 3.

About 21 percent of the land is privately owned, 70 percent is owned by the BLM and 9 percent is owned by the Department of Defense. The designation of critical habitat would prohibit activities that could endanger the milk-vetch plant, including off-roading, surface mining and wind energy development.

The BLM is already in the process of fencing off part of the land in order to prevent people from off-roading in the area. The agency has been working on the fencing for over a year and should be completed with the most critical areas by the spring, according to William “Mickey” Quillman, resource supervisor for the Barstow field office of the BLM.

Quillman said that the fencing is being put in place where excessive off-highway vehicle use has been occurring and that it is being done as funding permits. The area is already designated limited use, which means that vehicles can only travel on designated paths, but there are some who drive across the restricted areas despite the rule.

Most of the year, the milk-vetch exists in a dormant state below the surface, said Ileene Anderson, biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity. The growth period for the plant occurs in the late winter or early spring, which is also a popular time for off-roading.

Anderson said that the milk-vetch was important because it lives in such a restricted area.

“It’s a plant species that has a very, very small distribution on the planet,” said Anderson. “It’s a perennial plant that stays around for a number of years.”

Lois Grunwald, a spokesperson for the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, said that an endangered species could be an indication that the ecosystem is in trouble.

Anderson also said that the recent milk-vetch surveys show that more plants are dying than sprouting and it was unclear why the plants were doing poorly in spite of adequate rainfall.

October 18, 2010

Water: Lake Mead Is at Record Low Levels

Is the Southwest Drying Up?

Posted by Bryan Walsh

Droughts and overconsumption are sucking Lake Mead dry. (Ethan Miller/Getty)

The Hoover Dam may be the Eighth Wonder of the World, but to me the more impressive achievement has always been Lake Mead, the man-made reservoir—which can contain nearly 10 trillion gallons of water—that the dam holds back. Lake Mead is a vast, living tank of water in the middle of the Nevada desert, as unexpectedly remarkable as Las Vegas itself. But the lake is also a keystone in the complex irrigation system that keeps the parched states of the American Southwest wet with the waters of the Colorado River. Las Vegas gets 90% of its water from Lake Mead, and the sight of the rocky reservoir filled to the brim has always been a reassuring sign for a town built on luck.

But those days are long gone. The past decade has seen a precipitous decline in Lake Mead's water levels, as a stubborn, multi-year drought and continued growth in the Southwest have combined to drain the reservoir. The jagged rocks that form the boundaries of the reservoir are marked with bathtub rings, showing how far the water has fallen from the high point. And it's getting worse—as Felicity Barringer of the New York Times reports, some time this Sunday morning the water level at Lake Mead fell lower than it has ever has since it was first filled during the construction of the Hoover Dam 75 years ago. On Sunday the water level had dropped to 1,083.18 ft, and it had fallen further to 1,083.09 ft this morning. As this historical graph (PDF) from the Bureau of Reclamation shows, Lake Mead is entering uncharted territory—a thought that can't be comforting for the millions of people who depend on the lake to fill their faucets. As Barry Nelson, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Barringer:

This strikes me as such an amazing moment. It's three-quarters of a century since they filled it. And at the three-quarter-century mark, the world has changed...This is the place where the mega-dam began, and it may be the place where it ends [because of] climate change and new constraints on water supplies.
What's causing Lake Mead to dry up—and what does it mean for the Southwest? The one undeniable cause is simple growth—Las Vegas has grown from 25,000 people in 1950 to some 2 million today. That means more lawns, more laundry, more swimming pools, more car washes—in general, more straws sucking the water out of Lake Mead. And of course Las Vegas isn't the only area in the Southwest to experience booming growth over the past few decades. From Denver to Phoenix to Los Angeles, the once lightly populated West has exploded, even as farmers in the region draw more water from the system to irrigate the desert.

But the Southwest has also been caught in a devastating drought that has now gone on for more than 10 years, one that has reduced the region's water supplies even as growth has further stressed them. Drought is a natural phenomenon—especially in the desert, go figure—and there have been varying levels of rainfall in the region just in the 75 years since Lake Mead was first filled. But the scary thing is that the territory might be more vulnerable to drought than it seemed during the 20th century—a time period that may have been unusually wet on a historical scale. A 2007 panel organized by the National Research Council found evidence that mega-droughts had occurred in the Southwest more frequently than had been thought, and that "drought episodes are a recurrent and integral feature of the region's climate." The Colorado River Compact—which divides up water supplies for seven U.S. states and parts of Mexico—was drawn up in 1922, based on river flow data going back to the 1890s, a time of unusual wetness. We may have built the Southwest with a false sense of water security.

Then there's climate change, an X factor for future water supplies. It's difficult to gauge what impact, if any, global warming may have had on the current drought and on dropping water levels. As always, it's virtually impossible to filter out climate change as a cause for a natural disaster amid all the noise and static of other factors. But as the recent report from the government U.S. Global Change Research Program shows, the Southwest is already rapidly warming, reducing the spring mountain snowpack that helps feed the rivers of the region. We're likely to see increasing temperatures in the future, with more frequent drought and increasingly scarce water supplies. (See the rather alarming graph above.) Climate change won't be the only cause behind the drying of the West, but could make a bad situation much, much worse.

As it stands now, Lake Mead only has to drop a few more feet—to 1,075 ft—before a new water distribution system would kick in, reducing deliveries to Arizona and Nevada. It's possible that water managers may be able to avoid that catastrophe by diverting additional supplies from Utah's Lake Powell upriver, which contains about 50% more water than Lake Mead does. (Powell has risen more than 60 ft. since 2004, in part because the upper-basin states on the Colorado River don't use their full allocation, as opposed to thirsty states like Arizona and Nevada.) You can count on that plan going forward—if Lake Mead's water level were to drop beneath 1,050 ft., it might become impossible for Hoover Dam's hydroelectric turbines to work, turning a water shortage into a power panic as well. But what's clear is that in a hotter, drier future, the Southwest will have decisions to make about how it can best husband its limited water resources. A West of burgeoning cities and suburbs and a West of irrigated farms may no longer be able to coexist.

October 11, 2010

Madeleine Pickens purchases Nevada ranch, hopes to relocate wild horses there

Wild horses run as they are gathered by the Bureau of Land Management in the Conger Mountains of Utah on Sept. 8. (Jim Urquhart / Reuters)

Martin Griffith
Associated Press

RENO, Nev. — Madeleine Pickens, the wife of Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, has bought a sprawling Nevada ranch to serve as a wild horse sanctuary that would keep mustangs on the range instead of in government-funded holding facilities.

If approved by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the move would mark the first time the government has released a large number of mustangs to such a facility.

Pickens is hoping to initially relocate 1,000 horses to the 14,000-acre Spruce Ranch about 70 miles east of Elko. Eventually, she wants to return all 34,000 horses in government-funded holding facilities and pastures to their natural habitat.

"It's such a huge beginning," Pickens told the Associated Press. "I plan to buy more property out there. There's such an overload of horses in government holding."

Pickens said BLM Deputy Director Mike Pool expressed support for the plan during meetings with her last month in Washington.

BLM officials said they recently received a formal written proposal from Pickens and must review it before taking an official position.

"We're encouraged by the recent meetings with her," BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington said. "We're looking forward to working with her to put the wild horse program on a sustainable track."

Pickens purchased the ranch, which she plans to rename the Mustang Monument preserve, for an undisclosed price. The property comes with grazing rights on 540,000 acres of public land.

Pickens also is negotiating to buy an adjoining 4,000-acre ranch that has grazing rights for 24,000 acres of public land.

Pickens first proposed establishing a wild horse sanctuary in 2008 after the BLM said it was considering euthanasia as a way to stem escalating costs of keeping animals gathered from the open range.

However, the BLM rejected her initial proposal, saying it involved the use of public land where wild horses did not exist when the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was enacted in 1971. Federal law restricts mustangs from such areas.

Jerry Reynoldson, a consultant to Pickens and a former aide of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the latest proposal addresses that issue, and wild horses have historically lived in the area.

"What was always holding this sanctuary up was she didn't own a ranch," Reynoldson said. "Everything changed when she bought the ranch. This moves it from the conceptual talking stage to reality."

Under Pickens' latest proposal, a nonprofit foundation would care for the animals with a government stipend of $500 a head, per year. An education center and lodging facilities would be built, and the preserve would be fenced to confine horses.

"[The] wild horse eco-sanctuary will give them their natural habitat back, along with a place that Americans can come and view the horses and learn about the land and American culture," said Stacie Daigle of Pickens' Saving America's Mustangs group.

About 33,700 wild horses roam freely in 10 Western states, about half in Nevada. The BLM set a target level of 26,600 horses and burros in the wild to protect the herd, the range and native wildlife, and rounds up excess horses and offers them for adoption.

Those that are too old or considered unadoptable are sent to long-term holding facilities, where they can live for decades.

Of the $63.9 million designated for the BLM's wild horse and burro program in fiscal 2010, holding costs exceeded $38 million, BLM spokesman Tom Gorey said. More than 8,000 horses are in short-term holding and 25,700 are in long-term pastures in the Midwest.

"The BLM has a moral and fiscal responsibility to do something because they took the horses off public lands and created this debacle," Pickens said.

October 8, 2010

Bobcat kits snuggle in tree

By Rebecca Unger
Hi-Desert Star

Photo by Julianne Koza

PIONEERTOWN — Julianne Koza and her friend LynAnne Felts were cruising down Pipes Canyon Road on their way to the Orchid Festival last Saturday morning when they stopped short at an unusual sight — a pair of bobcat kittens.

“We thought we saw house cats up a Joshua tree,” Koza said. “Then we saw the tufted ears and realized those guys will never be house trained!”

Koza and Felts got out and jumped around to get the bobkittens’ attention. “They were quite unconcerned about our presence,” remarked Koza. “Like all cats, they knew we were there but didn’t care.”

Koza said she took “millions” of photos, and is happy to share some of them with Hi-Desert Star readers.

“It pays to always have your camera with you, because you never know what treasures the desert may choose to display.”

September 1, 2010

Kane County Wins First RS 2477 Road

by Morgan Skinner
KCSG News Kcsg Television

(L-R) Kane County Commissioners Mark Habbeshaw, Daniel Hulet, Doug Heaton with State Representative Mike Noel (R-Kanab) next to recently erected RS2477 road sign on Skutumpah road. (Kane County photo)

(Salt Lake City, UT) - Kane County has achieved what is believed to be the first concession in Utah of the federal government agreeing to grant rights-of-way to a disputed road that crosses federal land.

The court stipulated change allows the county to assert control and access over 27 miles of the 33-mile Skutumpah road, a road leading to Cannonville within boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

The victory comes as a result of a stipulation made by Department of Justice attorneys that could pave the way to resolve such disputes through negotiation, rather than litigation.

State Representative Mike Noel (R-Kanab) said this shows that the process can be simple and easy if the federal government cooperates in cases like these where you have roads that are easily determined to be the roads used and maintained within the county.

RS 2477 public highway rights-of-way were granted to states and counties from 1866 to 1976 to facilitate the settlement of the West. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 repealed the statute but established "RS 2477" roads were grandfathered as valid existing rights-of-way.

In 1997, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt directed his department agencies to ignore RS 2477 rights-of-way prompting controversy and conflict. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency of the Department of Interior, closed and/or restricted numerous county roads across the West claiming that RS 2477 rights must be “determined” before the agency would validate existing rights-of-way. Since then the Department of Interior has avoided validating any RS 2477 road rights-of-ways.

For the last two years in federal court, the Department of Interior has denied Kane County had any rights-of-way to the Skutumpah Road. It informed the public, however, that Kane County should maintain it.

Kane County petitioned the court for an expedited hearing to validate the county's rights-of-way because of failure by BLM to maintain the Skutumpah road resulting in public safety hazards along the roadway.

In Monday's stipulation, the Department of Interior validated Kane County's rights-of-way for most of Skutumpah road. The court order stipulated Kane County has the jurisdiction to properly maintain, repair and manage the Skutumpah road as it has historically done.

Kane County filed a motion for summary judgment on July 22, 2010 with the court quieting title to Kane County’s RS 2477 public highway rights-of-way for eight roads which include:

1. The Mill Creek road, designated as Kane County road K4400 and including segments known as the Tenny Creek road K4410 and the Oak Canyon road K4405;

2. The Bald Knoll road, designated as Kane County road K3935;

3. The Skutumpah road, designated as Kane County road K5000;

4. The Sand Dune road, designated as Kane County road K1000;

5. The Hancock road, designated as Kane County road K1100;

6. The Swallow Park/Park Wash road, designated as Kane County road K4360.

7. The North Swag road, designated as Kane County road K4370; and

8. The Nipple Lake road, designated as Kane County road K4290.

These roads have long been Kane County public thoroughfares, the petition said, and continue to provide needed access from private and public lands to cities, schools, stores, places of employment, and recreational areas within Kane County. Where these eight roads cross public lands, the rights-of-way were granted by Congress through RS 2477. RS 2477 was an express grant of rights-of-way, the filing states.

Attorneys for Kane County, Janna B. Custer and Shawn T. Welch, said in their filing that the undisputed facts demonstrate Kane County’s acceptance of the express grant for the eight roads by showing at least ten years of continuous public use prior to October 21, 1976. The undisputed facts also demonstrate Kane County’s acceptance of the express grant through designation of these roads as Class B – County General Highways and/or Kane County’s improvement, maintenance, or repair of these roads at Kane County’s and the State of Utah’s expense.

Monday's concession by the federal government was prompted by the dangerous conditions of the unmaintained Skutumpah road which the Department of Justice attorney’s claim Kane County hasn't fully documented as used and maintained prior to October 21, 1976. Six-miles of Skutumpah road remain in dispute.

August 30, 2010

Mudslide Clean-Up Continues; Highway 395 Open

Thunderstorm-caused mudslide at Dunmovin, California, pushes a big rig off the northbound U. S. Highway 395 and into a culvert on Thursday, August 26, 2010. Video captured by Jeff Bradshaw of Laguna Niguel shows mud flowing from the southbound lanes and across the divided highway.

Written by Benett Kessler
Sierra Wave

After last Thursday's horrendous flood and mudslide across Highway 395 south of Olancha, Caltrans and others have worked constantly to clear the highway and now to free a big rig that was pushed down into a culvert by the flood.

Susan Lent, PIO of Caltrans, said that the roads are open, but there is a lot of clean-up to do. Intermittent lane closures continue as crews work to clean things up.

Lent said that an Incident Command meeting would take place at the mudslide site on Tuesday among representatives of Caltrans, the CHP, BLM, the Forest Service and DWP. Officials planned to discuss completing clean-up and removal of the big rig which is blocking a culvert.

The initial mudslide had caused complete closure of Highway 395 for several hours. Some motorists headed back to Ridgecrest and detoured through Death Valley although initially Highway 190 was closed due to flooding.

Crews were able to restore northbound and southbound traffic flow, although restricted, by Friday.

August 26, 2010

Flash flood warning issued for Mojave preserve

From Staff Reports
Desert Dispatch

A flash flood warning is in effect for areas within the Mojave National Preserve and the Morongo Basin area until 4:45 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. A flood advisory is also in effect near Joshua Tree National Park.

Flash flood activity from a thunderstorm near Kelso in the preserve was detected at about 3 p.m. Thursday. Motorists along Kelbaker Road south of the Kelso Depot and Cima to the east of Kelso, according to the weather service. Other dirt roads within the Mojave preserve may be washed out.

Most deaths related to flash floods occur in cars. Motorists are warned not to drive cars into areas where water covers the road.

August 24, 2010

Dozens of burros die at dried-up spring

The Press-Enterprise

Fenner Spring CA - Nearly 60 burros were discovered dead in and near a horizontal mine shaft in a remote Mojave Desert wilderness area late last week, federal officials said Tuesday.

The animals probably were seeking water from a spring inside the tunnel that apparently had dried up. In all, 56 burros died, most likely of thirst, BLM officials said.

Some of the animals had been dead for as long as two weeks and were decomposing in the 100-degree-plus heat, said a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Land Management. Bureau officials saved the lives of another 13 burros that were suffering from severe dehydration.

A helicopter delivered 750 gallons of water to the site, about 35 miles west of Needles, on Thursday. By the next morning, all of that water had been consumed. Another 4,000 gallons were brought in by helicopter and a county water tender and placed in portable troughs.

The survivors remained at the remote site on Tuesday but probably will be moved to the federal corrals in Ridgecrest, nearly 200 miles away, officials said.

While BLM officials believe the 56 burros most likely died from lack of water, they are checking the possibility that they consumed contaminated water in the mine tunnel, Briery said

Fenner Spring, inside the 6-by-6-foot tunnel, is a regular water source for wild burros, said BLM spokesman David Briery.

But the spring appeared to have dried up, he said. The next available source of water is about 12 miles away.

Briery said the burros had pushed as far as 30 feet into the tunnel.

"They just started piling in," Briery said.

Alex Neibergs, a BLM horse and burro specialist, said the spring probably was their only water source. He said one of the animals may have become stuck in the tunnel and blocked the others.

"I have never seen anything like it," said Neibergs, one of several BLM officials who went to the scene on Thursday and Friday .

The dead burros were discovered by a rancher who grazes cattle near the Piute Mountains Wilderness Area, Briery said. He tried to pull the bodies out of the tunnel with his horse, but couldn't, Briery said.

Working in temperatures as high at 105, BLM officials removed the bodies, then used heavy equipment to bury them.

Wild burros have roamed the Mojave Desert since they were brought to the area by gold and silver prospectors. The BLM regularly captures them and holds them in federal corrals in Ridgecrest. They are then made available for adoption.

July 1, 2010

An Artistic Apprenticeship

Surrounded by the vast Gila wilderness, learning to paint with the reclusive desert artist Carl Faber

"Desert Wash" by Carl Faber.

By Esther Jamison
Desert Exposure

I first met Carl Faber in 2007 when I visited Gila Hot Springs with my husband. Upon meeting Carl and seeing his artwork, several things were apparent to me: First, his painting was jaw-dropping in its detail and refinement, and I wanted to be able to paint like that. Second, it became clear he was looking for a serious student to whom he could pass on his knowledge.

I don't know how I had the nerve to ask such an accomplished artist to sit for me so I could draw his portrait. It seems in hindsight to be a particularly rash, if not a downright arrogant thing to do on my part. I have always liked to draw the portraits of people with whom I have a good rapport, but it is quite an intense thing to draw someone's portrait, and given my inexperience, somewhat risky. I think I hoped somehow this portrait of Carl would be my way of proving myself as worthy to study with him. Fortunately, the sketch turned out well and he was pleased with it. I felt an overwhelming desire to stay, and to commence my studies then and there. But it would take us over two years to return.

After saving money, quitting my teaching job in England, and going through the grueling US immigration process, we finally arrived back here. Because not much had been said two years ago on the matter, and because Carl's responses by email were noncommittal, I was a bit nervous about whether I was right in thinking he might want to teach me. So when I knocked on his door the morning after I arrived, getting him out of bed, I was very relieved to find I had not been mistaken after all.

"I'm not a practical person. I don't think you're very practical either," he told me equably. "Artists follow their dreams and don't really think about the practicalities. Not many people are like that."

Carl Faber studied commercial art at a vocational school in Delaware, and worked in sign painting, metalwork, business displays and silkscreening in Florida and California. He moved out to the East Mojave desert in 1972 to focus on easel painting, and to study the desert landscapes that have become his hallmark.

His unique artwork and simple lifestyle drew attention from local and national press during the 1980s. Looking through these newspaper articles, he complains that the Los Angeles Times described him as a "reclusive hermit," when in fact he was constantly talking to people who visited him. Groups such as the Sierra Club and Friends of the Mojave Road brought many visitors, and gave him a constant stream of buyers.

Originally one of these visitors, his partner Adrienne Knute met Carl when he was living at the Rock House at Rock Springs, a Homestead-era building just off the old Mojave Road. Carl illustrated Adrienne's botanical study, Plants of the East Mojave, which was published in 1991 and reprinted in 2002. They first came to Gila Hot Springs in 2004, originally looking for a winter home. Despite winter temperatures being no warmer than the East Mojave, they fell in love with the place and it quickly became a full-time residence.

Once I was sure Carl was happy to teach me whatever I had the appetite to learn in terms of oil painting, I commenced my apprenticeship. For the first month, I went round to his house every day, waiting for whatever instruction or exercise he thought appropriate to give me. At the age of 30, I suppose I am a little too old to be thought of as an apprentice, but it certainly felt like I was undertaking something of that nature, and there was an old-fashioned feel to the arrangement — which, in Carl's words"would have nothing to do with money."

At first, Carl did quite a lot of talking. Once he saw I was paying attention to the degree necessary, information would stream from him in an unbroken torrent. He introduced me to the technical side of oil painting, but also to the spirit with which he undertook it. In one particularly memorable transmission, he described the process of painting a tree, seeing the posture of the branches in relation to each other, and using triangulation to capture the exact proportion and ratio. This was important, he explained, because in its very posture a tree expresses its struggle for survival, its struggle towards the light, towards divinity.

Carl described how his experiences of using LSD back in the 1960s shaped his perception of the natural world. "Not everyone sees what I see" he told me without arrogance. It is not that he sees things that are not there, but that he sees more clearly and vividly the detail of what is there, and what most people don't notice. By painting the delicate beauty of nature and by directing the eye towards its inherently poetic arrangements, Carl's artwork guides the viewer towards a broader perception of and appreciation for nature. "Nature is your greatest teacher as an artist, and it will teach you more about art than I ever will."

Carl lived for 33 years in the East Mojave desert, several of those years in solitude. "If you live for seven years in solitude, you learn patience. I used to want to finish my paintings in one day. There, I found I could go back the next day, the day after that, and if it took me three months to finish a painting, it wouldn't matter."

While he watched other artists go down the photorealism route, he developed his painting style through sustained observation in the immediacy of nature. This loyalty to how things appear to the human eye — rather than to the camera lens — gives his paintings an intimate realism. Carl can talk all afternoon on what he considers to be the superiority of field painting: "Far more information is gathered by the eyes than by the camera, for example in the subtle interplay between light and shadow, and in determining spatial relationships."

Carl showed me how to stretch canvas, using wooden frames, a canvas clamp and a staple gun. He started out with cotton duck, then he changed his mind and decided I should paint on his linen canvas. My first study of a skull on oil board turned out fairly well, and I think it did something to raise his expectations. "You're not a waste of time at all," he assured me. As we set up the still life he told me with a twinkle in his eye, "This time I'm going to accept nothing less than excellence."

As I sat down in front of a daunting still life, which included a pestle and mortar made of glass, I quickly buried the pencil drawing I transferred to the canvas under a layer of amateurishly clumsy paint. I sat there, listening to the bluegrass station on the satellite radio in his studio, wondering what to do now. "Nothing less than excellence." The silent reiterations of this expectation weren't helpful. I decided to quit for the morning and went inside to confess that my efforts were far short of excellence. I added plaintively that it was too hard. He nodded quietly but uncritically.

When I returned after lunch, he said, "Let's go and have a look at that nightmare out there." I watched, grateful and spellbound, as in a few deft strokes, he resurrected the painting, offering guidance, encouragement and a choice: Quit now, and we can scrub and save the canvas for something else. "This is a very difficult set-up. I just put these out there, and I was kinda surprised you wanted to paint them." He was offering me a way out. "Or, you could continue — but it's going to take a lot of fussing with before you're happy with it."

I thought for a while. His artistic intervention and encouraging words made up my mind. I could tell that, even though he expected excellence, I wouldn't be punished if I didn't produce it. The main thing he cared about, it seemed, was that I tried my best.

In December, when the uninsulated studio kept the lard oil solid until midday, I leaped at the chance to draw Carl's portrait again, as I knew it would happen next to the wood stove in the house. When I finished the portrait, I suggested perhaps it was not one to show the friend he had been trying to persuade to sit for me. With some trepidation I showed it to Carl.

"It's an honest portrait," he said generously, and he seemed happy with it as a study. Adrienne didn't like it. She looked at it and said, "Ugh."

"That's what she says when she sees me first thing in the morning," Carl joked.

The second portrait I did was slightly more user-friendly, but still didn't capture his gleeful spirit. Adrienne was not convinced by this attempt, either. I complained that it is difficult to see where his mouth and jawline are because of his beard.

Carl again defended my artwork by saying that Adrienne doesn't see him as he is now, but as he was when they first met 25 years ago. "She sees me as all young and handsome still." Carl stood up and cuddled her.

"Isn't he pretty?" she said affectionately.

When people ask him whether they can chat while he works, Carl replies, "You can talk to me about anything, as long as you don't talk to me about what I'm doing."

When I painted, Carl didn't talk to me about what I was doing, but he did talk about art, artists, galleries and stories from his past. I found myself putting down my brush and listening, particularly as he reached every now and then to get art books down from his shelves, to show me examples of artwork. After a while he would notice I've stopped painting, and he'd leave me in the studio alone. He'd just come in every so often to check how I'm doing, and offer guidance. He seemed to appreciate the fact that I was happy for him to take over with the brush to demonstrate or to correct something. Some students are very touchy, he said, wanting the painting to be all their own.

One morning I found Carl had done a self-portrait to demonstrate the use of white charcoal on tinted paper. I saw that Carl's sharp technique is the result of deft, single strokes with either pencil or brush, which creates a freshness and clarity in his work. I tend to go back and forth with lines until I get them right, producing a more muddy effect. He agreed with my self-assessment and thought up the next exercise for me to do.

As a sign painter, he learned calligraphy and the importance of accurate and deft brushstrokes. He set out an exercise with a lettering brush using tempura on newsprint. He showed me how to roll the brush to paint a thinner line, and left me for an hour to practice capital letters.

Feeling like a change from being inside the studio, I picked out a sycamore tree in their yard to do a study of. Carl stretched a good quality cotton duck canvas and I transferred my drawing of the tree to it. It is quite a logistical operation to get set up to paint outside, and Carl does not scorn the finer details of equipment; he treats finding the right palette and maulstick as just as important as what paint and brushes to use. He is certainly an expert at painting in the field. In his studio I came across a photo of him sitting on a stool in the middle of a river, painting the roots of an alder tree on the riverbank, with his equipment laid out in an archipelago around him. Carl still owns that painting, which I think is one of his most appealing.

"Painting these squares is going to become like water torture for you" he'd told me gleefully when he set me the task of completing a large color chart. As I sat in front of the wintry sycamore tree, its branches naked and mottled with complex pastel hues, I was grateful for the time-saving knowledge that allowed me to mix the right color faster, especially when every minute outside is metered out by how long I can stand the cold.

After about an hour of painting, I began to feel a dualistic tension building between me as the painter and the tree as the object of my painting. I sat still and tried to drop the unconscious barriers. My hands were almost numb and had lost much of their fine motor skill. I allowed my brain to slow down to accept the cold, and put up my hood. After a few minutes, I saw a new color in the bark of the tree, and by painting it in where I saw it, the tree on the canvas looked a little bit closer to being life-like.

After a couple of weeks of working on the tree, I was becoming slightly less enthusiastic and somewhat stuck, so Carl offered to help me put in some of the background, in order to illuminate the next priorities for the foreground. He is quite unusual as a painter for painting the foreground first, then doing the background, and then returning to the foreground; his main enthusiasm lies in the detail of the foreground.

He showed me a technique where he paints a branch across another branch (the paint from the first branch already having dried), then uses thinner to take away the paint that crosses the original branch. This leaves a clear and well-executed crossover of two branches, when normally an artist would be struggling to take the edge of the second branch accurately and convincingly up to the edge of the original branch.

My main desire in learning to paint in oils is to do portraits. I had in mind to paint our neighbor, a beautiful Native American woman with piercing gray eyes and straight gray and black hair. I told Carl that she was willing to sit for me, and his eyes twinkled in approval. He said, "You'll want to do a good likeness, a real portrait of Susan. But when you first start, you're going to get frustrated and you don't want to get frustrated in front of your model, because she will get discouraged. You'll also feel under quite a lot of pressure — so perhaps you should practice on someone else first."

I saw the sense in his words, so I enlisted my husband as model. He has fair skin, lively auburn hair, kind green eyes and, most important, much patience.

Carl fussed around getting us set up in his studio, making us coffee and bringing out cookies. I was a bit nervous about starting, but Carl encouraged me to jump right in with oils, since I have done several sketches of my husband in the past. The painting went through many stages of development, and since I went straight into oils without doing a preliminary sketch, my husband's features morphed alarmingly from day to day.

I became stuck at the impasse of not wanting to put too much paint down when I wasn't entirely satisfied with the structure, but equally not being able to get the structural lines right. Carl showed me how to use color to help find and define the correct form of the subject. He used the maulstick to point out specific parts of my husband's face, indicating areas of cool and warm shades, highlights and value changes. As I put the paint down more thickly and used richer colors with greater boldness, the structure of his face began to fall into place.

After finishing my husband's portrait and starting Susan's, I decided to return to the unfinished sycamore tree before its leaves came out. After painting for a couple of hours, I asked Carl, "What would you do next?" — a question I almost regretted, as he launched into a morale-dissipating list of things that he would change, and ways in which I hadn't done justice to the detail and mood of the tree. I thought to myself: That's the last question you should ask a perfectionist.

"The tree doesn't look like a map. What you've done is kind of like this — " He pointed to his camouflage jacket. "Look at how crisp the delineation is between this patch of bark and this one." He pointed to two closely colored patches of green with the maulstick. "And how this patch gradually shades from this to this color. And make sure you don't make these branches look like the limbs of some sea creature."

He spoke for several minutes in a similar vein. After a moment's silence I said, "I'm just not sure I could paint that kind of detail with a brush."

Carl must have detected some disheartenment in my voice. His eyes lit up as he chided me humorously, "Shame on you!" He proceeded to remind me of all the ways in which I could paint finer lines and manipulate them to get the desired effect.

Despite Carl dismissing the idea that my tools were inadequate for the task, I bought three of the smallest oil brushes I could find the next day in town. When I returned to paint the sycamore, my size 0 round gave me a renewed enthusiasm for the process, allowing me to put in the fine lines that Carl expected of me. The frustration I had experienced previously was forgotten.

After a couple of hours it started to rain, and I took the painting in to show Carl. I could tell that he was happy with my progress by the light in his eyes as he put it carefully on his workbench to dry.

Originally from England, Esther Jamison is an artist living in Gila Hot Springs.

June 13, 2010

Remote California town blazes trail with solar plant that saves water

New technology uses less water, which suits Nevada’s climate

A view of the Skyline Solar facility in Nipton, Calif. Friday, June 11, 2010. The 80 kilowatt , High Gain Solar (HGS) 1000 system power plant will provide 85% of Nipton’s electricity needs. (Steve Marcus)

By Stephanie Tavares
Las Vegas Sun

On the southern horizon is a new breed of solar plant, one that could be a game changer for the industry.

Just across the California border, Nipton has unveiled a sun-powered generator that is expected to provide about 85 percent of the town’s electricity over the course of a year.

The solar plant uses a new technology, concentrating solar photovoltaic, known as CPV, which could be a boon in places like Nevada where the sun is strong, but water for power plants is scarce.

Concentrating solar power plants are expected to use far less water than their solar thermal cousins because they lack the cooling requirements and don’t need water to heat for steam. And because they have fewer photovoltaic panels to be cleaned than a traditional photovoltaic plant, they could use less water than traditional photovoltaic arrays.

Although massive solar arrays on thousands of acres of mostly federal land get the lion’s share of the attention, some think everyday Nevadans will benefit more from growth in small-scale renewable energy systems called distributed generation. These smaller projects, like rooftop solar or small terrestrial projects like the one in Nipton, provide electricity directly to a building without expensive transmission lines. No bulldozing the desert, either.

The state energy office this month announced it will seek third-party agreements with small-scale solar developers to build dozens of new arrays on state land. Some of the projects are expected to be relatively portable solar arrays on vacant lots — just like the one 64 miles southwest of Las Vegas in Nipton.

The 80-kilowatt project is part of the one-time mining camp’s plan to become an eco-tourism mecca. Nipton is on the northern edge of the Mojave National Preserve, home of the popular Kelso Dunes. Many park visitors are “granola and Prius” types, and they usually stay at campgrounds and hotels in Nipton. The town is betting that stepping up its environmental reputation will drive tourism growth.

“We’re in the hospitality business in Nipton,” said Gerald Freeman, its principal administrator. “This is all part of our plan to be an environmentally friendly destination. We’re going to project our environmentalism strongly. That’s the underlying theme of Nipton for the future: to move progressively toward a sustainable, environmentally friendly community.”

And in the Mojave Desert, that means solar panels.

Freeman has been looking into powering the town with renewable energy since the 1980s. But it was only recently, with the new technology, federal tax incentives and the advent of third-party ownership, that the plan became economically viable.

It took just a few months for Freeman to find a company that would finance the purchase and installation of the system in exchange for a set price per kilowatt hour sold to Nipton residents.

Prices charged by the local utility, Southern California Edison, have gone up an average of 6 percent a year, Freeman said. Under the power purchase agreement, the rate could increase only 3 percent a year. And after the tax incentives run out in about six years, the town has the option of buying the installation at a reduced price.

“We’re pleased to be able to lower our cost and also do our bit in terms of getting off fossil fuels,” Freeman said. “It’s going to save us money right from the start and will get better later on as electric (bills) rise. It was an easy decision to put in a system that would cover most of our power needs in Nipton.”

The system is designed by Skyline Solar, a Silicon Valley-based solar photovoltaic manufacturer that has combined the portability of solar photovoltaics with the concentrating power of mirrors used in solar thermal power plants.

With the help of an Energy Department grant and U.S. Patent Office fast tracking, Skyline is among the first American companies to bring concentrating photovoltaic designs to market.

Its system resembles the Nevada Solar One thermal array in Boulder City, except where the center-mounted pipes full of molten salt would be is a row of photovoltaic cells. Using photovoltaics on a concentrating solar power frame allows the plant to take up less land, and eliminates the need for extensive land leveling, pipe laying and liquid storage silos. And with the addition of mirrors, it can produce far more electricity than a traditional solar photovoltaic array.

No pipes, no buildings and no water or chemicals are needed, Skyline spokesman Tim Keeting said.

Products such as Skyline’s can be planned and assembled quickly — the Nipton project took just five weeks to come online — and they can be built with tiny footings drilled into the land or no drilling at all, making it easier to convert back to bare dirt should the land be needed for another use later, said Robert Mumford, spokesman for the solar division of Panelized Structures, which installed the system.

The Skyline system is one of the first concentrating solar photovoltaic systems to come to market. That’s mostly because the federal government has historically channeled research and development grants to rooftop photovoltaic technologies, according to National Renewable Energy Lab reliability group manager and photovoltaic pioneer Sarah Kurtz, who was involved with the Energy Department grant and attended a ribbon-cutting celebrating the new power plant in Nipton on Friday. A few of the town’s residents were there along with local and county dignitaries and the team of engineers, government workers, contractors and financiers who made the project happen.

“There has been a real change in just the last few years,” Kurtz said.

The Skyline system, which she called “elegant and versatile in its design” was able to move from paper to prototype much more quickly than some other CPV systems because the design was simple and took components that had been tested elsewhere and combined them for increased efficiency and expedited assembly.

“Skyline has broken some records on bringing this to market with speed,” Kurtz said.

These smaller solar installations also save land because they usually sit on developed sites or sites that were bulldozed in anticipation of development. And they rarely need new transmission lines and corridors to carry the power to market because they usually serve nearby buildings.

Skyline has about 20 megawatts worth of projects in various stages around the globe, including Nevada. Keeting said it is too soon to reveal exactly where and when its first CPV project will begin construction in the state, but he says if all the contracts and permits work out it could be within the next couple of years.

Small-scale solar is a growing business in Nevada. Panelized Structures’ Las Vegas team built its first large distributed generation solar project in the parking lot of the ProCaps laboratory in Henderson two years ago. The business has grown by as much as 100 percent each year since, while the rest of its building divisions foundered, Mumford said.

“The business has just exploded,” Mumford said. “In the month between May and June, we’ll install 3.4 megawatts of solar panels across the Southwest — about 2.5 megawatts in Nevada alone.”

June 12, 2010

Letter: Put people first in pipe debate


Gay Smith and Jack Dugan
Pioneertown Property Owners Association
Hi-Desert Star

As president and vice president of the Pioneertown Property Owners Association, we would like to set the record straight as to the water situation in Pioneertown. We in Pioneertown have been waiting 10 long years to get safe water to drink. Yet each time we are about to realize our dreams, someone who does not live in Section 19 and therefore does not pay a water bill or drink the water, or bathe in the water, or give their pets the water to drink, or worry about the health issues that this contaminated water brings with it, steps in and wants to save the tortoises. We have not seen a tortoise in years. Nor have we seen Indian artifacts on Skyline Ranch Road. Yes, there are some artifacts, i.e. burned pottery chards, in the gullies off the road.

Each time it rains Skyline Ranch Road is dragged so that the residents can get in and out. Do the people who drag the road put up barriers to save the tortoises or walk the road first to remove any valuable artifacts? We think not.

It is time to put people’s lives and the lives of their pets first. It is important to make an 18-inch-wide ditch down the middle of Skyline Ranch Road, which will be covered each night to protect the tortoises, so that the people of Pioneertown have safe water to drink. And after all is said and done, Skyline Ranch Road will look the same as it does today — locked gate and all.

June 11, 2010

Ivanpah Airport in a holding pattern


Development of the proposed Ivanpah Airport, considered crucial to Southern Nevada's future just a few years ago, has been suspended indefinitely because of lower passenger numbers and planned improvements at McCarran International Airport.

The Ivanpah plan has been going through an environmental review, and studies already under way will be completed, said Rosemary Vassiliadis, deputy director of aviation for the Clark County Aviation Department.

There also will be continued monitoring of the site, on Interstate 15 north of Primm, in case other plans or developments would have an effect on the proposed airport, she said.

But with passenger counts at McCarran declining, it was decided that a new airport wasn't an immediate need after all.

"We don't lose anything" by stopping the planning process now, Vassiliadis said. "We can restart it at any time."

Halting the process now is expected to save $15 million, spokeswoman Elaine Sanchez said.

In April, almost 3.4 million passengers passed through McCarran, which is 5 percent lower than the more than 3.5 million who used the airport in April 2009. In 2010, passenger counts are 3.9 percent lower than in 2009, and 2009's numbers were 8.2 percent less than 2008's counts.

"The drop in traffic, the economy, are certainly two elements that affect the need for a new commercial airport," Vassiliadis said.

Another element is known as NextGen, or Next Generation Air Transportation System. It involves replacing ground-based air traffic control systems with one using satellites, which will allow planes to fly closer together on more direct routes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

McCarran's current capacity is 53 million passengers a year. Because of the air traffic improvements, that should increase to 55 million within 18 months, Vassiliadis said.

If the program is fully funded, McCarran could handle 60 million people a year, she said.

McCarran was the nation's seventh-busiest airport in 2009 with 40.5 million passengers.

No timeline has been established for restarting planning for Ivanpah, which was once expected to open as soon as 2017.

"We know we're beyond 2025, so it wouldn't be meaningful to come up with a date," Vassiliadis said.

That's a far different tune than the one being sung as recently as 2008. When Las Vegas was still growing and adding more hotel rooms, plans called for the $7 billion Ivanpah airport to handle as many as 35 million passengers a year, as well as air cargo.

The project had its critics, though, who were concerned about putting an airport so close to the Mojave National Preserve just over the California state line.

And the area is home to several protected species, including desert tortoises that are relocated when development threatens their habitat elsewhere.

May 26, 2010

Hoover Dam's Perpetual Power

Franklin Roosevelt's signature project created more than jobs and energy—it incited one of our nation's greatest transformations

A view of part of the Hoover Dam in 1936. (CSU Archives/Everett Collection)

Wall Street Journal

Seventy-five years ago this summer, President Franklin Roosevelt journeyed west from Washington to place the New Deal's indelible stamp on an outstanding symbol of governmental might.

The occasion was the official dedication of what is today known as Hoover Dam. As FDR told 10,000 spectators at the Colorado River dam site and 20 million more via radio, the dam meant gainful employment, cheap hydroelectric power, reliable irrigation and protection from the obstinate elements, all ripped from a forbidding desert canyon by the hand of a visionary federal government. Eleanor Roosevelt, who accompanied her husband on his visit to the Colorado River, would tell friends that the trip brought home to her the sweeping achievement of his administration as if for the very first time. That the project had originated with Republicans—indeed, it was originally conceived by her own Uncle Theodore—went unmentioned.

It is customary to think of Roosevelt's New Deal as the driver of the social and economic changes that gripped America after 1945. But this transformation really began a decade earlier, when the completion of Hoover Dam heralded a period of explosive industrial development and population growth in the West that would reverberate nationwide. The story of America in the last half of the 20th century should be seen as the story not of the postwar era, but the post-dam era.

The dam did more than contribute to the physical and economic remaking of its region; it prefigured and inspired a fundamental change in American values—political, ideological, even psychological. The path from an America of self-contained localities, each one trying address its problems and needs in local isolation, to one in which every state or local issue is seen as a piece of a broad national agenda points us back to Hoover Dam.

Yet the history of Hoover Dam warns us, too, that the nationalization of regional public works can come at a cost. As the Sept. 30 anniversary of FDR's dedication approaches, the country is debating, even more vehemently than it did 75 years ago, the place of the federal government in our lives. It was people's concerns about ceding their personal relationships with doctors to a remote government bureaucracy that animated the opposition to the health-care reform bills in Congress. State and municipal officials complain about the strings that almost always come attached to federal program funding—whether it's minimum benefit standards imposed on federally subsidized health and relief programs, or wage or employment rules attached to federally funded public works.

Then there's the infiltration of national politics into local contracting. Consider the case of a $54 million rail project in California's Napa Valley, which went, without competitive bidding, to a contractor owned by an Alaskan Native American tribe in 2008 because of a preference written years ago into federal law by former Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.

These sorts of conflicts and concerns will only become more common as the federal government takes more of a role in upgrading the nation's infrastructure, whether through stimulus funding or by other means. As the Government Accountability Office determined in 2008, the vast majority of the nation's roads and highways are owned by state and local governments, as are the nation's bridges, ports, transit lines and water systems. Few of these can be repaired or even maintained without some federal funding. Indeed, it is hard to conceive of a major public construction project that can be launched without a huge federal appropriation, whether it is an aqueduct, flood-control levee, highway or transportation link.

Hoover Dam made the West but also confined it in a straitjacket. The growth of such great regional urban centers as Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Denver was driven by the water and hydroelectricity it promised. But the millions of residents drawn to those metropolises over the decades have had to confront the realization that its promise was equivocal. Today the Colorado River cannot provide enough water to fulfill all the expectations that the building of Hoover Dam excited in the seven states of the river basin. Even taking advantage of its actual capacity comes at a price—as the federal government controls the water, states and smaller communities must cede to it a large measure of control over their own politics and policies.

The dam that would wield national influence was born in a quintessentially local crisis: a series of floods that devastated Southern California's Imperial Valley in 1905.

The valley had been converted from an arid desert into an agricultural Eden by water irrigated from the Colorado via a 50-mile canal. When the river burst its banks that winter, the private company managing the canal proved itself unequal to the engineering challenges and the financial demands it entailed. The Southern Pacific Railroad stepped into the breach, rescuing the valley from almost certain catastrophe at a cost of some $3 million. But the episode underscored for conservation-minded President Theodore Roosevelt—at a time when "conservation" connoted not only the preservation of nature, but the exploitation of natural resources—that the U.S. government alone could marshal the resources and the authority to manage the river for the public good. In 1907 he proposed that the government undertake "a broad, comprehensive scheme of development" for the Colorado "so that none of the water of this great river which can be put to beneficial use will…go to waste."

Roosevelt's successors expanded on his vision, to the point that Woodrow Wilson's interior secretary, Franklin K. Lane, would proclaim in 1916 that "every tree is a challenge to us, and every pool of water and every foot of soil. The mountains are our enemies. We must pierce them and make them serve. The sinful rivers we must curb."

The Colorado was the most sinful of rivers, unpredictable and destructive in its violent moods. In the 1920s, curbing it became a Republican cause, promoted in Congress by Sen. Hiram Johnson of California, whose Boulder Canyon Project Act was signed into law by Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

Even then, the government's traditional fiscal conservatism stood in the project's way. Federal spending, focused largely on the nation's standing Army and Navy and the payment of obligations incurred in wartime (such as interest on war debt and the upkeep of veterans), amounted to roughly 2% of gross national product. By the end of the 20th century, that figure would be closer to 20%.

What changed the political calculus was the onset of the greatest economic crisis in modern history. By 1930, President Hoover was contemplating a vast increase in federal public works spending to combat unemployment. The problem then was the dearth of "shovel-ready" projects to absorb the additional money. Only one stood out, already authorized by Congress, approved by Calvin Coolidge, and nearly designed and engineered: the great dam on the Colorado.

Hoover's successor, Franklin Roosevelt, instinctively recognized the power of great public works to inspire and encourage. Within a year of his 1935 dedication, three more dams would be under construction in the West, all ranking with Boulder Dam as among the world's grandest. (The dam was christened with Hoover's name by his friend and interior secretary, Ray Lyman Wilbur, at its 1930 groundbreaking, renamed "Boulder Dam" by the Roosevelt Administration, and restored to its original name by a Republican Congress in 1947.) The New Deal's Tennessee Valley Authority would eventually encompass 29 hydroelectric dams. FDR began to see himself as the nation's premier dam builder, calling constantly for more projects, like a man under a spell. Seven more dams would rise on the Colorado itself, exploiting it so completely that its once mighty flow into the Gulf of California has been reduced today to a brackish dribble, runoff from Mexican farms.

Hoover Dam inspired more than irrigation works. Even before its final concrete was poured, construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was under way, involving some of the same contracting firms working in the Colorado gorge. The power of America's concerted will and financial resources, demonstrated so decisively by the raising of the dam in such inhospitable conditions, would continue to assert itself over the succeeding years. This was true in times of acute crisis, as after Pearl Harbor, at D-Day, and in the Manhattan Project; and in times of more placid if not entirely tranquil aspiration, as during 1950s and 1960s, which bequeathed us the interstate highway system and the moon landing.

The rationale for nationalizing public works is largely a sound one: in our mobile, interconnected world even regional infrastructure projects produce nationwide benefits. Westerners and Easterners, Northerners and Southerners fly in and out of each others' airports and ship and receive goods over roadways and rail lines binding the nation together from the rocky coast of Maine to the Pacific shore. Who would begrudge the coastal communities of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and Texas the federal assistance contributed to the efforts to combat the Gulf of Mexico oil spill?

But as the residents of the West well know, the price is a loss of local self-determination. The Colorado River Compact—the interstate treaty that cleared the way for Hoover Dam in 1922 by balancing the water rights of the seven states of the Colorado basin—created a precedent for federal oversight of the river. But its full implications did not become clear until four decades later, with the Supreme Court's 1963 ruling in Arizona v. California.

In that decision, nominally concerned with a dispute between those two states over water rights on the Colorado, the Justices awarded the authority to apportion surpluses and shortages from federal reclamation projects to the Department of the Interior. Farm regulations, urban growth policy, industrial development—on these and myriad other issues, any state that depended on water from a federal reservoir henceforth would have to defer to Washington. This was so astonishing an expansion of federal power over the states that the liberal Justice William O. Douglas excoriated the majority for what he labeled "the baldest attempt by judges in modern times to spin their own philosophy into the fabric of the law."

And so Hoover Dam, born in an effort by Southern California farmers and ranchers to bring willful nature under control, became the instrument by which they ceded control over their destinies to a higher governmental authority. A new set of internecine conflicts over water—between cities and farms, big cities and small towns, wet regions and arid zones—would be decided not in the chambers of state capitols and city halls, but in Washington, D.C. That situation continues to this day: For the citizens of the seven states of the Colorado watershed, the most important cabinet appointee in any new administration is not the secretary of defense or state, but the secretary of the interior.

For all that, Franklin Roosevelt envisioned the Boulder Canyon Project in a way that his predecessor Herbert Hoover would have found entirely alien: as a symbol. The dam signified not only man's mastery over nature, Roosevelt observed, but also a people's ability to find greatness by coalescing into a social and economic community.

Roosevelt was fully alive to the totemic significance of what he called "the greatest dam in the world," its elegant machine-like beauty and alabaster majesty. He understood the spell it would cast on every visitor: Hundreds of thousands of visitors had preceded him, peering over the canyon rim during the construction phase at the ant-like workers 700 feet below; afterwards, a million tourists a year would heed his call "to come to Boulder Dam and see it with your own eyes."

Movie companies would set their melodramas against the improbable backdrop of the exploding cliffsides and pouring concrete; novelists would nudge their plots into motion with mysterious events unfolding in the dam's shadows; advertisers would pose their models against its elegant lines; poets would sing of its flawless beauty.

The United States after the construction of Hoover Dam was very different from the United States that built it. The nation was transformed from one that glorified individualism into one that cherished shared enterprise and communal social support. Public construction projects put millions of people to work creating long-lasting community improvements—hospitals, schools, parks and bridges such as New York's Triborough (now Robert F. Kennedy Bridge) and the San Francisco Bay Bridge. From the end of the war to the 1970s, America's economic growth was broad-based and income inequality suppressed, and socially inclusive federal policies such as civil rights, affirmative action and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society were enacted with popular, if not unanimous, support.

To be sure, that change was not all the making of the dam itself; Social Security, the Works Progress Administration, and other New Deal programs forged in the crucible of Depression all played an essential role, as did four years of war. But the dam remains the physical embodiment of this great transformation, a remote regional construction project reconfigured into a symbol of national pride.

Michael Hiltzik is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. This essay is adapted from "Colossus: Hoover Dam and the American Century," due out from Free Press in June.

May 21, 2010

Sen. Dianne Feinstein presses ahead with monuments bill

Desert Sun

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

It may not happen this year, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Thursday she will succeed in protecting an additional 1.5 million acres of California land from development.

“I'll get it passed,” the California Democrat told reporters after appearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

She was there to promote a bill she has authored to designate two new national monuments and add lands to three other federal parks and preserves in the state.

Feinstein's proposal has drawn support from the Coachella Valley, where it is seen as a potential boon to the $1 billion tourism industry.

The proposed 134,000-acre Sand to Snow National Monument would abut the western boundary of Joshua Tree National Park and include Big Morongo and Whitewater canyons, the San Gorgonio Wilderness and 23.6 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The bill would also keep the Whitewater River free-flowing and expand Joshua Tree National Park by 2,900 acres.

New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who chairs the committee, said he called the hearing because the 180-page bill touches upon a broad scope of issues that will inevitably raise concerns.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the committee, didn't wait long to express her reservations.

“I do have some concerns about this bill before us — primarily the message concerning renewable energy on federal lands,” she said.

Murkowski worries the bill would encourage “Not In My Backyard” opposition to alternative energy projects that could turn investors away at a time when the nation should be weaning itself off foreign oil.

“I am worried that investors will be gun-shy,” she said.

Feinstein drafted the bill after learning in February that an 800-megawatt solar energy project was being proposed for the southern part of the Mojave Preserve. The proposed facility would sit on 8 square miles of land purchased for conservation with federal and private funds, she said.

“A beautiful valley would be destroyed, effectively. The whole valley,” she said.

Rather than construct the solar energy project there, Feinstein said, there are 350,000 acres of federal land the Bureau of Land Management has identified as “solar study zones” — more than enough, she said, to meet the state's future needs for solar power.

None of the 1.5 million acres proposed for protection extends to those study zones, she said.

The bill would not interfere with the nine solar and three wind projects that the BLM is seeking to “fast-track,” nor would it impact applications for solar power plants that could generate 4,803 megawatts of energy, which are under review by the California Energy Commission, she said.

Feinstein also has recommended that the BLM establish an additional solar study zone on a vast expanse of land directly north of Edwards Air Force Base.

BLM supports bill

The bill, which has no co-sponsors, was generally supported Thursday by the BLM, the Defense Department and the National Forest System.

BLM Director Robert Abbey said the Interior Department supports the goals of the legislation, but raised concerns about some of the changes that Feinstein has proposed to streamline the solar and wind energy application process.

Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Dorothy Robyn told the committee the designation of large monuments and wilderness areas as off-limits to development may help protect nearby military installations from encroachment.

She said, however, further study is needed to determine the impact that steering development to other areas would have on the military's mission requirements.

Faye Krueger, acting associate deputy chief of the National Forest System, said the department supports the goals of the legislation but recommended several minor changes in how the areas would be managed.

The committee also heard testimony from proponents of the bill that included the Wildlands Conservancy, Southern California Edison and the California Association of 4WD Clubs.

May 20, 2010

Authorities Say Mojave Desert Replacement Memorial Cross Must Come Down

Joe Abrams
Associated Press

Apple Valley resident Mark Ware was the first person to see the new cross at Sunrise Rock. (Mark Ware and

Authorities say a Mojave Desert war memorial cross that replaced one that was stolen is illegal and must come down.

Linda Slater, a spokeswoman with the Mojave National Preserve, says a maintenance worker spotted the 7½-foot replica cross made of metal pipes on Thursday in a federal park.

The original cross was stolen more than a week ago. It had been the subject of a lawsuit arguing that the Christian symbol didn't belong on public land.

The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily allowed the old cross to stand, but Slater says the new cross isn't covered by the ruling and will be taken down.

The site's caretakers constructed a replacement cross on Saturday. Wanda Sandoz, who has watched over the site with her husband Henry since 1984, said the one put in place Wednesday night is not the one welded by her husband.

Sandoz said the cross that went up overnight is white, but their replica has not been painted yet -- indicating that the replacement could be the original stolen cross or someone else's replica.

"I'm curious as to how they got it up there," Sandoz said, explaining that erecting the cement-filled pipes was a rigorous and difficult process — and would be much harder by the light of a quarter moon.

"It's not like you can dig a hole and put a cross in there. It's solid rock up there," she said.

Thieves used bolt cutters to rip through the inch-thick bolts that had kept the cross in place since 1984. That memorial replaced a wooden cross that was put up in the Mojave Desert in 1934 by veterans of World War I to honor troops who died in battle.

Sandoz said her husband was helped by about five or six ranchers when he put up the metal cross in 1984. "One man couldn't have taken it down, and one man couldn't put it back up," she said.

The Park Service told on Wednesday that it opposed replacing the stolen cross as long as litigation continues.

A $125,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of the thieves who took the memorial.