February 27, 2011

SCE plans $750 million project to link solar plants to grid

Public input sought on new transmission corridor through Hesperia, Lucerne

Natasha Lindstrom
Victor Valley Daily Press

HESPERIA • Southern California Edison is planning a $750 million project to enable new renewable energy development in the Mojave Desert to connect to the power grid.

The proposed project would build a new substation near Newberry Springs and construct 67 miles of new transmission line between Edison’s Lugo and Pisgah substations — including 18 to 20 miles of a new transmission corridor that would border some 600 residents between Hesperia and Lucerne Valley.

Edison does not yet have estimates on the number of jobs the project would create.

While the project’s still in the early stages, Edison is turning to local residents for input on four possible routes for the line of large metal steel towers topping 100 feet, with a public workshop in Hesperia scheduled for March 3.

“Like most new transmission-type projects, a lot of people are concerned as to where it’s going to be located geographically as to where they live,” said Spear, adding that Edison has notified all the residents living along the potential transmission corridor routes. “We’re just wanting to be very up front with the public and go to them early and let them know what’s sort of on the preliminary drawing boards.”

An executive order signed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger requiring California utility companies to increase the percentage of renewable energy in the state’s electricity mix to 33 percent by 2020.

The next steps in the Lugo-Pisgah project will be for Edison to submit applications to the California Public Utilities Commission for approval, which Spear said will likely happen in the first quarter of 2012. It’ll take up to two years for the applications to be processed and the project’s build-out will taken another three. The tentative construction completion date is in 2017.

The public is invited to share their input and ask questions about the project at a public workshop 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Percy Bakker Community Center, 9333 E Avenue in Hesperia.

For more information, Hesperia residents can call (760) 951-3281. Apple Valley and Lucerne Valley residents can call (760) 951-3237. Or visit sce.com/lugopisgah.

February 25, 2011

MOJAVE DESERT: Military seeks OHV area for exercises

The Press-Enterprise

The military wants to expand its Twentynine Palms training grounds to take in more than two-thirds of the popular Johnson Valley off-road recreation area southeast of Barstow, according to U.S. Marine Corps documents released Friday.

Under the Marines' preferred plan to expand the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, the military would control 146,667 acres in the Johnson Valley that now is a designated off-highway vehicle recreation area. The valley draws tens of thousands of off-road enthusiasts each year.

The 932-square-mile combat center also could add another 21,304 acres at its southeast corner, northeast of Twentynine Palms.

The proposal is among six alternatives being considered by the military to prepare troops for desert and urban warfare.

All but one alternative involves taking most of the 189,000-acre Johnson Valley OHV area.

The disclosures contained in the 941-page environmental study fit with earlier statements by Marine Corps officials. Military officials at Twentynine Palms did not return a call Friday.

Lt. Col. James McArthur said in an interview in late 2008 that Marine officials had determined that the Johnson Valley is best for live-fire exercises and maneuvers because it provides a natural extension of training corridors on the base.

The expansion is needed, the military has said, so that Marines have enough space for three battalions to maneuver simultaneously using live ammunition accompanied by air support. Each battalion would have about 1,000 Marines aided by other troops performing command and logistics duties.

Ray Pessa, a Yucca Valley resident who builds dune buggies, said the preferred plan is not a complete loss to off-roaders.

He was part of a group that met with military officials and explained the importance of the Johnson Valley to various groups, including hikers, campers, wind sailors and rocket clubs.

The preferred plan would allow public access on 38,137 acres in the southeast part of Johnson Valley for about 10 months each year. That would allow the popular "King of the Hammers" four-wheel-drive rock-crawler race to continue, he said. The annual event attracts about 8,000 people, Pessa said.

Still, 108,530 acres of the Johnson Valley would be for military use only, including the Rock Pile and Bessemer Mine Road areas.

"I am not in a position to argue with the military," Pessa said. "If the U.S. Marines say they need that area, then they do."

Pessa added that off-roaders also are being pushed from public land because of new wildlife protections.

"All over the country, public lands are being taken away," he said.

The military's environmental impact statement will be open to public comments through May 26. It can be viewed at www.marines.mil/unit/29palms/las. Comments can be mailed to Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southwest, Attention: Twentynine Palms EIS Project Manager, 1220 Pacific Highway, San Diego, CA 92132-5190.

The Marines will host public meetings on April 12, 13, and 14 in Joshua Tree, Ontario and Victorville, respectively.

The military's news release did not state when a final decision is expected.

February 19, 2011

Pioneertown about to rip off Yucca Valley

Letter from Dee and Bill Campbell
Yucca Valley
Hi-Desert Star

Listen up, taxpayers of Yucca Valley. We are all about to be ripped off.

A meeting was held with a few grumpy residents from Pioneertown, yet not announced to taxpayers of Yucca — but it will affect us all.

This “private” meeting for the people included Mr. Neil Derry.

Regarding a few complaints about the long-time, naturally occurring arsenic in one water well, it’s been this way since 1940.

They have the audacity to think that they (Pioneertown) can run a pipeline and take our water from our recharge ponds, that we’ve all paid for with our taxes. Mind you, those people did not pay one cent for our water-recharge ponds!

Yucca Valley’s water is extremely contaminated, due to a poorly-thought-out advertising campaign back in the 1990s to come “Discover Yucca Valley.” So as Los Angeles “discovered Yucca Valley,” they forgot to bring a sewer system! Now all our ground is contaminated with L.A. sewage, and another town thinks they can leach off of our money — I mean our water supply?

Who do they think they are? Are they going to pay us all back for those ponds? Do they have permission to create a utility corridor through that preserve and people’s private lands?

I seem to recall the same issues fought against Los Angeles Department of Water and Power recently. What’s the difference now?

Anyone who has lived in this area has known the problems with that well in Pioneertown. Perhaps those who are so upset should just move! Because our tax dollars are not paying for your poor choice in real estate! Buy a filter. Via the Web, Whirlpool has a nice model for $150. That would not require any more destruction of our desert.

Quite frankly, we long-time residents are fed up with city folks coming here and trying to change everything. If you don’t like your environment, leave it! But don’t destroy my desert and expect us all to stand by quietly while you take our water that we paid for. No way! No way!

February 16, 2011

Act would set aside Mojave land

The bill states that there shall be no commercial development within the areas locked up.

Seth Shteir of the National Parks Conservation Association maps out a large section of desert wilderness that would be added to Joshua Tree National Park if the California Desert Protection Act of 2011 is passed into law. (Rebecca Unger, Hi-Desert Star)

By Rebecca Unger
Hi-Desert Star

MOJAVE DESERT — As the region celebrates the 75th anniversary of Joshua Tree National Monument this year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is introducing federal legislation to designate additional areas of the Mojave Desert for recreation and environmental conservation.

Seth Shteir, the California desert field representative for the National Parks Conservation Association in Joshua Tree, is enthusiastic about the possibilities of the passage of the 2011 California Desert Protection Act.

“This is really visionary legislation, in that it protects the heart of the California desert and its critical wildlife corridors,” the conservation professional said.

“We now know that living things are interconnected, but the boundaries of our national parks have political boundaries, not ecological or geographic,” Shteir said.

“To protect what’s living in the parks, we must maintain critical wildlife corridors so they can seek food, water, shelter and mates. This is particularly true as our climate gets warmer, and studies show that the American Southwest is a climate change hot spot.”

The proposed legislation calls for the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study on the effect of climate change on the lands covered by the Protection Act.

The 2011 legislation also protects desert wildlands from large renewable-energy developments.

“The bill states that there shall be no commercial development within the areas covered by the CDPA,” Shteir explained.

In addition to adding lands to the Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks and the Mojave National Preserve, the act would set aside nearly 76 miles of rivers, 250,000 acres of wilderness, 941,000 acres of the Mojave Trails National Monument east of Ludlow and 134,000 acres of Sand to Snow National Monument, which would include the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve.

The 2011 CDPA also permanently designates five areas in the Mojave Desert for off-highway vehicle fun.

Shteir sees the CDPA’s protection of critical wilderness areas coupled with set-aside regions for sport riding as win-win.

“The desert is an economic engine for the region,” he said. “The report ‘Economic Oasis’ says that in 2003, outdoor recreational users spent $230 million visiting the Mojave region. In 2007, the Michigan State University money-generation model for national parks reported that visitors to Joshua Tree National Park spent $32 million, and supported over 500 jobs in the area. So, the CDPA is not only good for our plants, wildlife and our recreation, but it’s good for the health of our economy.”

Preserve would be part of monument

The riverbank habitat of the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve in Morongo Valley is one of the areas that would be get additional protection in Feinstein’s act.

The preserve links wildlife corridors between Joshua Tree National Park and the high country of the San Bernardino Mountains.

“The park’s bighorn sheep rely on the preserves as a year-round water source,” Shteir pointed out. “I was recently hiking in a remote area of the preserve and saw three bighorn sheep, and one of them was very pregnant. After the heavy rains in December I saw bear tracks in the muddy earth along a creek.”

The preserve also is a world-renowned birding destination. A total of 235 species have been recorded here, with 70 nesting species.

Before the Green Path North energy project was scrapped, high-voltage transmission towers would have been placed in the preserve. The passage of the 2011 CDPA would add another layer of protection for the preserve by making it part of the Sand to Snow National Monument.

“We are sandwiched between the two burgeoning metropolitan areas of Las Vegas and Los Angeles,” Shteir noted. “As their development increases, the desert will become increasingly squeezed. When we protect the desert’s special places, we protect our natural history, our ecology and our recreational opportunities for future generations.”

Shteir also wanted to clear up a misconception that has fueled rumors of a “land grab” by environmental extremists.

“The lands protected by the California Desert Protection Act are federal lands,” he said. “There is no private property in this legislation.”

February 3, 2011

Hatch: Stop Obama’s War On The West

Sen. Orrin Hatch
St. George News

Utah is one of the most beautiful places on earth. In their latest attack on the rural West, President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced unauthorized and unlimited “Wild Lands” designations in western states. Federal law is clear that “wilderness” can be designated only by Congress, but the President has the audacity to hope that this subtle wording change, from “wilderness to “Wild Lands,” will let him act without constraint in closing off vast public lands to the public who own them. Utahns and other Americans living in the West, with their way of life at stake, hope he’s wrong, and I will be introducing legislation to stop him.

The recent announcement demonstrates brazen contempt for the rule of law. These lands belong to the people, not to federal land managers. The Wilderness Act passed in 1964 clearly gives Congress authority over these lands, and Congress has not approved this action. Federal law also requires input from local and state officials on these matters. Furthermore, the President’s announcement blatantly disregards agreements the federal government has stricken with Utah and other states to keep this kind of action from happening. Finally, it reverses comprehensive Resource Management Plans that have taken decades and hundreds of millions of dollars to complete.

The Obama Administration is simply ignoring these concrete limits on his power. This new policy shows blatant disregard for Utahns way of life that has been a backbone of American culture. Utah’s rural communities represent what is best about America, what is best about families, what is best about hard work, and what is best about the moral values necessary to hold any democracy together. For rural areas to survive, they must be allowed to pursue basic activities that sustain rural economies: energy development, ranching, hunting, and access to these public lands on established roads.

A survey of energy companies indicates that new federal constraints have removed about $2.8 billion in investment from the Rockies. More than 70 percent of the industry respondents blamed new federal policies for the trend, and 89 percent of the companies will continue to divert investment from the Rockies until regulations become less hostile. That was before the President’s latest “Wild Lands” announcement which will be even worse for Utah jobs.

In a time when we must work to become less dependent on foreign oil, this latest attack on the rural West is bad news for our nation, and it will contribute to high gas prices. But rural families are the hardest hit. In a letter I received from a family in rural Utah, they wrote, “As the new presidential administration and new head of the Department of the Interior took over, the oil and gas production companies slowed their drilling and production programs drastically. The rapid economic change was shocking … We went from being a prospering business to a business that is just hoping we can pay our bills.”

Another young woman in rural Utah wrote: “I was working for Superior Well Services. I was able to have health insurance and life insurance. I had an amazing future in front of me. I was laid off….. Since then, I can’t get medical insurance, I’m behind on all of my bills and the only job I could find is being a waitress at a local café. Where is this change we were promised?”

The “Wild Lands” policy increases uncertainty for every aspect of the rural economy in the West, including mining, ranching, energy production, hunting, and recreational access to our public lands. Is it any wonder the plan was drafted with no outside input other than the one group that would benefit from the plan – extreme environmentalists?

I appreciate the national beauty that Utah has to offer. However, we in Congress will not stand idly by while the President plays a reverse Robin Hood in the West, stealing an important way of life from the many for the benefit of an elite few who want these lands for themselves. I will continue to fight as hard as I can to ensure that does not happen on my watch.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Finance Committee. He also serves on the Judiciary and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committees and Joint Committee on Taxation. Long recognized as a principled conservative, Hatch has been at the forefront of the battle in the U.S. Senate to rein in the ever-expanding federal bureaucracy and costly, burdensome regulations. Recognized recently by U.S. News & World Report magazine as one of America’s top 22 leaders, Hatch’s legislative achievements and initiatives include the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, the Strengthening Our Commitment to Legal Immigration and America’s Security Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.