November 30, 2012

County Opposes Wind Turbines On Black Lava Butte and Flat Top Mesa

Black Lava Butte and Flat Top Mesa.
San Bernardino County Sentinel

In one of his last acts as Third District county supervisor, Neil Derry convinced his board colleagues to take a stand against a British company’s proposal to erect several score 197-foot high wind turbines in the desert north of Yucca Valley on Black Lava Butte and Flat Top Mesa north of Pipes Canyon Road between Pioneertown and Yucca Mesa.

London-based Element Power, which has its main North American office in Portland, Oregon, has been doing exploratory work to determine whether it will seek permits for the project under the aegis of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which calls for 33 percent of California’s commercially-produced electricity sales to be provided by renewable sources by 2020. Element is banking upon an expedited permitting process that is available for projects applied for under the plan.

The board of supervisors this week, however, significantly complicated that approach when it collectively endorsed a resolution brought forth by Derry opposing Element Power’s application.

In making his recommendation for the resolution, Derry noted that the Black Lava Butte Wind Project was proposed to be sited where previously an electrical transmission line project known as Green Path North was to have been located.

“On December 4, 2007 the board of supervisors adopted Resolution No. 2007-367 opposing the Green Path North project proposed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power,” Derry stated in his report to the board with regard to the resolution. “The project called for the erection of power transmission lines throughout western portions of the Morongo Basin and endangered natural wildlife corridors, sensitive habitat areas and important cultural resources. Following the abandonment of the Green Path North project, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power once again solicited requests for proposals to be filed for proposed projects on the Green Path North alignment.

The Black Lava Butte Wind Project application filed by Element Power and approved by the Bureau of Land Management calls for the exploration of potential wind energy capture and transmission within the backcountry of the Morongo Basin. Element Power would first seek to ascertain the viability of wind energy development by measuring data from two meteorological towers approximately 200 feet in height that have already been constructed.”

In July 2011, Element Power erected the two 197-foot high towers Derry referred to in order to collect data on wind speed and direction at that height at that location. The Bureau of Land Management in 2010 gave Element permission to build those towers. Element hopes to determine from that data whether building a wind farm at that location will prove commercially viable.

While some endorse the concept of aggressive corporate efforts to develop renewable energy and certain environmentalists embrace the wind farm concept, others, including some environmentalists, are opposed to the project proposal.

Some opponents cite the harm they perceive the placement of turbines will have on the desert vista. They and others find objectionable the danger they say the wind turbines represent to eagles, bats, and other birds that fly through or inhabit the area. Another point of protest hinges on the possible destruction of Native American rock art and other archaeological artifacts in the area. Other critics point out that the remote location of the wind field will require that the electricity be transported a considerable distance, and that a significant percentage of the energy will be lost during that line transport.

Three groups opposed to the project on environmental grounds, the California Desert Coalition, Save Our Desert, and the Center for Biological Diversity, are seeking to have that portion of the desert which was identified as an area of critical environmental concern in the Desert Protection Act introduced to Congress in 2011 extended to include Black Lava Butte and Flat Top Mesa.

If Element Power elects to proceed with the project, it will need to erect eight miles of transmission lines and towers to deliver the energy to the California Power Grid’s existing electrical transmission lines.

Derry made reference to the transmission line and its placement in his call for the board to oppose the project.

“In order to supply the region’s electrical grid with the wind power, an eight-mile transmission line would need to be constructed over environmentally sensitive habitat,” Derry wrote. “Over 4,000 acres of undeveloped public lands would be subjected to transmission lines and networks of wind turbines. This project area required helicopter transport in order to erect the meteorological towers and further development would require the building of road infrastructure in order to reach two scenic jewels of the Morongo Basin: Black Lava Butte and Flat Top Mesa.”

Derry said that neither he nor the county are opposed to the harnessing of the wind to produce electrical power, but that such projects should be undertaken in areas that will not suffer environmental or ecological degradation as a consequence.

“As stated previously in Resolution No. 2007-367, while the county supports the use of renewable resources and encourages programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions; the county of San Bernardino also places a high value on protecting and preserving the natural resources of the California desert and as a result opposes the construction of high tension power lines through environmentally sensitive areas in the Morongo Basin, and recommends that additional power lines be located within existing energy corridors,” Derry stated.

November 29, 2012

BrightSource Seeks Changes In Ivanpah Tortoise Plan

by Chris Clarke

BrightSource Energy, developer of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System now under construction in the California desert, wants to change how it mitigates its project effects on the federally threatened desert tortoise. The company has filed a request last week to amend the project's permit with the California Energy Commission (CEC) allowing it to protect tortoise habitat elsewhere in the Mojave Desert rather than in the Ivanpah Valley, as the permit now requires.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is being built on almost 4,000 acres of what was once prime desert tortoise habitat in the Ivanpah Valley, which straddles the California-Nevada line south of Las Vegas. Slated for completion in 2013, the 370-megawatt solar thermal project was briefly halted in 2011 when workers found hundreds more of the threatened reptile on the site than surveys had predicted.

As part of the required mitigation of the project's impacts on desert tortoise habitat, BrightSource agreed in 2010 to a number of land protection measures including either buying or acquiring conservation easements on att least 175 acres of desert wash habitat in the same watershed as the project. The company now says that the Ivanpah Valley doesn't have sufficient connected lands to make that feasible. BrightSource wants to be able to meet the project's mitigation requirements through the California Department of Fish and Game's Advance Mitigation Land Acquisition Grants (AMLAG) program, in which the agency acquires mitigation lands with funds paid into a state trust fund by project developers.

The portion of the Ivanpah Valley where Ivanpah SEGS is located is neither an Area of Critical Environmental Concern nor a designated or proposed Desert Wildlife Management Area, nor is it designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as critical habitat for any species. With respect to cumulative impacts and related issues, the presence of 1-15, Nipton Road, the Primm Valley Golf Club, Primm itself, and the Union Pacific Railroad railway has not only permanently altered drainage patterns but, along with Ivanpah Playa itself, substantially fragmented desert tortoise habitat in Ivanpah Valley. These barriers also limit the value of the available private land parcels in the Ivanpah Valley due to their lack of potential to promote habitat connectivity.

The nearly 200,000-acre Ivanpah Valley actually offers a fair amount of potential connected tortoise habitat. It's true that some few thousand acres have been developed for Primm and its associated golf course, but those developments are clustered in a relatively small section in the central valley. Interstate 15 and the railroad line similarly disrupt connectivity between the east and west sides of the valley, but offer little obstruction to the north-south migration that will become especially crucial for tortoise survival as the globe warms.

Taking advantage of the AMLAG program would allow BrightSource to pay the state to protect land in other parts of the desert. BrightSource's petition to the Energy Commission identifies other areas in the Mojave that offer potential mitigation land opportunities:

Suitable lands have been identified within the Cady Mountain-Hidden Valley, Fremont-Kramer/Superior-Cronese, and Chuckwalla property groupings. These lands are located either within a proposed Desert Wildlife Management Area, or within a proposed Wilderness Area. Additionally, these lands are private parcels that currently fragment the proposed Desert Wildlife Management Area or Wilderness Area.

That's a laudable goal, though not one that does much to remedy any harms done to the Ivanpah Valley's tortoises, which U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) studies indicate may have been genetically isolated for millennia from tortoises elsewhere in the California Desert. In February, in an assessment of the tortoise's status across its range, the FWS described the long-term geographic barriers that have caused Ivanpah Valley tortoises to evolve a unique genome:

Saline Valley and Death Valley extending south into Silurian Valley and Soda Dry Lake act as a barrier between this recovery unit and the Western Mojave Recovery Unit. Although gene flow likely occurred intermittently during favorable conditions across this western edge of the recovery unit, this area contains a portion of the Baker Sink, a low-elevation, extremely hot and arid strip that extends from Death Valley to Bristol Dry Lake. This area is generally inhospitable for desert tortoises.

November 19, 2012

US, Mexico To Sign Landmark Colorado River Agreement

About 30 million people in seven western States and two Mexican states depend on Colorado River water. After years of negotiations the U.S. and Mexico plan to sign a landmark water use agreement Nov. 20.

The U.S. stores emergency water for Mexico at Lake Mead, the reservoir behind Hoover Dam near Las Vegas. (Laurel Morales/KPBS)

By Laurel Morales

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Hoover Dam was built to control the powerful Colorado River, which for many years flooded farms and cities.

“‘Ladies and gentlemen, here is where man conquered the mighty river placing a concrete yoke about its neck to harness its tremendous power and water resources,’” a 1955 educational video explained.

In 1922 the Colorado River Compact divvied up the water to the upper and lower basin states. This allowed for cities like Las Vegas and San Diego to mushroom rapidly, and for farmers to grow acre upon acre of alfalfa and other crops.

About 20 years later, Arizona and Mexico signed on to receive their shares.

So let’s do a little math. Water is measured in acre-feet. An acre-foot is enough water for about two households a year. The upper and lower basin states were allocated 7.5 million acre-feet each, and 1.5 million acre-feet to Mexico, add in the loss to evaporation (remember we’re in the desert here) and you get a grand total of about 18 million acre-feet a year. But today -- in this extended drought period -- the river is flowing at best 15 million acre-feet.

"There simply isn’t enough water to go around even if we drained the river dry every year to satisfy those who have legal rights to the water," said Robert Glennon, a University of Arizona regents professor and the author of Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to do About it. In addition to the over-allocation of river water, the states are now facing climate change and population growth.

"You add all of those things up and it’s a train wreck," Glennon said. "So the states and the two national governments cannot put their heads in the sand and pretend that there’s not a problem. I commend them for tackling the issue head on."

The issue came to a head five years ago when Lake Mead, the reservoir behind Hoover Dam, reached a critical low point. The western states devised a backup plan. But the real question -- will Mexico go along?

"It was never clear when the river went into shortage conditions that Mexico was going to agree to accept a cutback in supply that went to Mexico," said David Modeer, the general manager of the Central Arizona Project, which provides 80 percent of the state’s water. "That’s an uncertainty and a threat to us that if we were going have to cutback supplies, there was no guarantee that the amount of water Mexico gets on an annual basis would be reduced similarly in fashion."

There was an added urgency to the negotiations for Mexico when, in 2010, an earthquake damaged pipelines in a major farming area south of the border. Mexico asked the U.S. to let it store water in Lake Mead while repairs were made. The new water agreement extends this emergency storage program.

It’s a precedent-setting agreement and many other nations dealing with water scarcity -- like Australia and some Asian countries -- are watching with interest.

"Just the notion that one country would use its facilities to store the waters of another country is a huge issue across the globe and this agreement will go down as a blueprint," said Pat Mulroy, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The agreement also has some gains for environmentalists.

It calls for a pilot program of water releases from the U.S. to replenish the now mostly dry wetlands in the Colorado River delta in Northern Mexico -- once a major stopover for North American birds.

The most important element of this agreement is that Mexico will share in times of surplus and shortage with the western United States. Still, water experts say more needs to be done to plan for climate change, which will likely reduce Colorado River flows by as much as 9 percent.

Feds begin high-flow releases from Glen Canyon

Experiments will occur yearly in hope of restoring Grand Canyon’s ecological vitality.

The high-flow release of water into the Colorado River from bypass tubes at Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Ariz., Monday Nov. 19, 2012 begins as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar opens the valves. Federal water managers started a 5-day high-flow experimental release to help restore the Grand Canyon's ecosystem. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic,Rob Schumacher)

By Brian Maffly
The Salt Lake Tribune

Page, Ariz. -- Federal water mangers and scientists Monday began ratcheting up releases from Glen Canyon Dam as part of a five-day experiment to push sediments down the Colorado River in hopes of restoring sandbars that play a vital ecological role in the river channel.

This week’s high-flow releases, designed to mimic the pre-dam natural flooding, mark "an historic milestone" for river management, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

"It was an honor to open the door to a new era for Glen Canyon Dam operations and the ecology of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park — a new era in which we realize that the goals of water storage, delivery and hydropower production are compatible with improving and protecting the resources of the Colorado River," Salazar said after he personally triggered releases at noon through the dam’s outlet tubes that bypass the turbines.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation began experimenting with high flows in 1996; this week’s event is only the fourth experiment. The others occurred in 2004 and 2008.

But the frequency of future releases will increase — to the delight of conservationists — under protocols Salazar announced in May.

"We have been pitching Interior for years to do these as often as the sediment in the system warrants. They rejuvenate all the sediment-related resources," said Nikolai Lash, a program manager with the Grand Canyon Trust. Under the new protocols, high-flow releases are expected to occur as often as once or twice a year, depending on the accumulation of downstream sediments.

Scientists led by Utah State University geomorphologist Jack Schmidt will closely monitor the effects of these high flows for the next several years. Their findings will help guide a long-standing "adaptive management" strategy for the Southwest’s signature river, which has carved one of the world’s most scenic landscapes. Damming the river produced a windfall of electrical power, but it also wrecked the river’s ecology and pushed warm-water fish species toward extinction.

"By early 1990s, the scientific community recognized it would be impossible to restore native ecosystems without controlled floods because they reintroduce disturbance into the ecosystem," said Schmidt, who now works for the U.S. Geological Survey. A professor of watershed sciences, Schmidt remains on unpaid leave from his USU appointment while he leads the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center in Flagstaff, Ariz.

By disturbance, Schmidt was referring to the massive floods that once roared through Glen and Grand canyons, with flows in excess of 50,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) occurring most years and in excess of 125,000 cfs every eight years on average. Before the 1966 completion of the 710-foot-high Glen Canyon Dam, which forms Lake Powell, the Colorado pushed millions of tons of eroded sediments downstream, creating a rich network of sandbars that supported fish and riparian communities along Grand Canyon’s floor, not to mention great camping spots for river runners.

The dam impounds 95 percent of the natural sediment flow, then releases water at a steady rate of 7,000 to 9,000 cfs, which prevents sediments building up at the mouths of tributaries from being pushed downstream, according Schmidt.

November 15, 2012

Mojave Cross to return to desert home

National Park rangers to send back cross

Golden Gate National Recreation Area ranger Nijaune Winston stands by the Mojave Cross. The National Park district intends to return the cross to its original locale in the Mojave National Preserve. (Photo courtesy of Golden Gate National Recreation Area)

by Mark Noack
Half Moon Bay Review

National Park Service officials this week took custody of the Mojave Cross with plans to return it to its desert home, one week after the handmade monument was found mysteriously on the side of Skyline Boulevard.

Once found, the cross, a 6-foot steel-pipe structure, was delivered to the Half Moon Bay Sheriff’s substation. Then it was transported to an undisclosed location in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. GGNRA officials say the cross is being treated as evidence until it is returned to the Mojave National Preserve. Those arrangements are still being made.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Yucca Valley resident Henry Sandoz, the caretaker of the cross, installed a replacement at the same location as part of a Veterans Day ceremony. The event also marked a successful land trade as a workaround to the delicate church-state issues at play.

Originally erected in 1934 to honor World War I veterans, the Mojave Cross became the target of lawsuits, appeals and court rulings after its surrounding property became part of the National Park system. The cross became a legal pawn in a larger controversy. Civil-rights groups viewed its as a blatant religious display on public land while veterans’ associations defended it as a memorial.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a 2010 ruling on the matter, but just days afterward the cross was stolen. It remained missing for two years until last week, when a television news crew discovered it lying on the side Highway 35. The cross was wrapped up and had a message asking whoever found it to return it. Sandoz and National Park officials later authenticated it was the same cross stolen in 2010.

Last week, the National Park Service announced it was transferring a small piece of the Mojave National Preserve to the California Veterans of Foreign Wars as a way to resolve the central conflict of the lawsuits.

November 11, 2012

Cross stands again

The new Mojave Cross after it was installed on Sunday, November 11, Veterans Day. (DAVID OLSON/STAFF PHOTO)


MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE -- After more than a decade of First Amendment court battles, a cross stands again in the Mojave National Preserve, for the first time with the legal blessing of the U.S. Supreme Court.

More than 100 people Sunday, November 11, watched as the seven-foot-tall iron cross was hoisted onto and then bolted into Sunrise Rock, which is 12 miles off Interstate 15 about halfway between Barstow and Las Vegas. Then, the commander of the California Veterans of Foreign Wars, Earl Fulk, formally rededicated it.

The Veterans Day ceremony occurred 78 years after World War I veterans erected the cross in honor of their fallen comrades, and 11 years after a lawsuit backed by the American Civil Liberties Union sought to remove it.

The ACLU, representing a former National Park service employee, argued that permitting a cross on public land was an unconstitutional government endorsement of Christianity.

After two federal courts agreed with the ACLU, the Supreme Court in 2010 ruled that a land exchange, under which the land around the cross was converted into private property, passed constitutional muster. The VFW now owns the acre under and around the cross. The land exchange was formally completed Nov. 2.

The ceremony occurred as Riverside discussed a similar land exchange after threats of a lawsuit over the Mt. Rubidoux cross. A military atheist group is objecting to a proposed veterans memorial in Lake Elsinore that includes a cross.

The iron cross that had stood on the Mojave site for years was stolen two months after the Supreme Court decision. It was found Nov. 5, south of San Francisco. A plywood box encased it during years of court appeals.

The cross installed Sunday was a replacement created by one of the cross's caretakers, Henry Sandoz, 73, of Yucca Valley. Sandoz said concrete will be poured inside the iron pipes on another day, to make it harder to steal.

For 30 years Sandoz and his wife Wanda looked after several crosses on the site, those previous either vandalized or stolen.

Wanda Sandoz, 68, said she was overjoyed when she saw the cross finally go up, at last with its legality undisputed.

“I can't even describe it,” she said of her feelings. “It was just wonderful to see it go up and know it's going to be able to stay. That's the best thing.”

The Sandozes traded five acres of their land in exchange for the acre ceded to the VFW.

Sunrise Rock sits amid a sea of Joshua trees just off Cima Road.

Rees Lloyd, a Banning resident representing the American Legion at the ceremony, said the lawsuit against the cross was an attack on religious freedom and involved a memorial that few saw.

“Why would anyone be offended?” said Lloyd, a former Legion district commander who was wearing a white button with a red line through “ACLU.” “You can't see it from the freeway. You have to drive to it to be offended.”

Chuck Wilcox, 47, Henry Sandoz's son-in-law and a Yucca Valley resident, said the years of litigation “was a bigger deal than it should have been.”

“It just seemed ridiculous to me,” said Wilcox, who helped carry the blanket-wrapped cross up Sunrise Rock and then helped raise it. “The whole time I've lived out here, it was just here, part of the landscape.”

The land swap was first negotiated by U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands. Congress approved it.

But a federal appellate court ruled against it, saying that transferring one acre of land to the VFW in the middle of the vast expanse of federal park land “will do nothing to minimize the impermissible governmental endorsement” of a religious symbol.

A divided Supreme Court in 2010 overturned that decision.

“The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement (of religion) does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.

During the ceremony, Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Texas-based Liberty Institute, which focuses on religious-freedom cases and was involved in the Mojave cross case, talked of the indignities that crosses on the site have been through.

“This memorial has been bagged, it's been torn down and it's been stolen,” he said. “And now it's back, it's up and you're standing on VFW property,” Sasser said to loud cheers and clapping. “It's fantastic.”

A cable surrounds the newly private land, with signs stating that it is VFW-owned property open to the public.

The Sandozes became caretakers in 1983, when Riley Bembry, one of the WWI veterans who erected the cross in 1934, was near death and asked the couple to take care of the cross. Veterans Day was established to honor WWI veterans and now honors all who served in the military.

On a table topped with red, white and blue cupcakes to celebrate the installation of the cross sat a wood-framed black-and-white photo of Bembry. The photo usually is in the Sandozes' living room, near an oak dining room table that Reilly gave to the couple.

“My great friend Riley, he would really be smiling down on us now,” said Henry Sandoz.

“He probably is,” he said with a laugh.

November 5, 2012

Stolen Mojave cross mysteriously reappears in California

An unsigned note was found taped to the Mojave Memorial Cross, which was found Monday. A new cross is due to be raised atop Sunrise Rock at Mojave National Preserve at 11 a.m. Sunday, followed at 1 p.m. by a re-dedication ceremony. (The Associated Press)

By Henry Brean

A stolen cross that sparked controversy and a Supreme Court case may soon be headed back to its Mojave Desert home after it was left by the side of a road south of San Francisco.

The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office recovered the white metal cross late Monday morning near the town of Half Moon Bay, Calif., more than 500 miles from where it stood for decades before being stolen in 2010.

Based on a tip from a San Francisco television station, deputies found the cross strapped upright to a fence post with an unsigned note taped to it that read: "This cross is an important historical artifact. It is in fact the Mojave cross, taken on the evening of May 9, 2010 from Sunrise Rock in the Mojave Desert. I would be very grateful if you would be so kind as to notify the appropriate authorities of its presence here."

Authorities don't yet know who returned the cross or who stole it in the first place.

Its mysterious reappearance comes just days before a replica was due to be placed atop Sunrise Rock as part of a Veterans Day service.

Long before igniting a constitutional controversy over religious symbols on federal land, the welded steel symbol was mounted to the rock 75 miles southwest of Las Vegas by a group of World War I vets as a memorial to fallen soldiers.

For decades, it served as a site for Easter Sunday services and the occasional veterans event. A handful of volunteers maintained - and occasionally replaced - the cross, which was damaged from time to time by vandals and the desert wind.

The Mojave Memorial Cross, as it came to be known, still stood in 1994 when the 1.6 million acres surrounding it was designated as a national preserve. Three years later, a retired park service employee lodged a complaint about it because he considered it a government endorsement of Christianity.

A pair of lawsuits ensued, and the cross was cast into darkness, spending several years covered by boards like a roadside sign with no writing on it.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in with a 5-4 decision that cleared the symbol to remain on display while a lower court reconsidered the case.

The cross was stolen two weeks later.

At least twice since then, replicas were placed at the site, only to be taken down by National Park Service employees acting under a court order.

The long legal fight was finally resolved last week, when the park service transferred ownership of Sunrise Rock and the acre surrounding it to the California office of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a private organization free to erect and maintain a cross there.

In exchange, the park service got five acres of formerly private land inside the Mojave National Preserve.

"We have a solution that honors those who died for their country and honors national parks," said preserve superintendent Stephanie R. Dubois in a statement.

A new cross is due to be raised at the site at 11 a.m. Sunday, followed at 1 p.m. by a rededication ceremony featuring longtime caretakers Henry and Wanda Sandoz and others.

It is unclear whether the original cross will make it back to the site alongside Cima Road, about 12 miles south of Interstate 15, in time for Sunday's event. Authorities in San Mateo County said the recovered cross would be turned over to park service officials in San Francisco.

No matter which cross is raised this weekend, James Rowoldt, CEO of the VFW in California, is just glad the underlying dispute has finally been settled.

"I'm just happy for the Sandozes. I'm happy it's over for them," Rowoldt said earlier Monday, before learning about the cross found near Half Moon Bay. "It's just a happy day for everyone."

November 4, 2012

Mojave Cross to be re-erected on Veterans Day

Henry Sandoz and his wife, Wanda, visit the monument to fallen service members in Mojave National Preserve in October 2008, before the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the case. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Beatriz E. Valenzuela
San Bernardino Sun

It's been a long legal battle that lasted more than a decade, but now, Henry and Wanda Sandoz of Yucca Valley will finally be able to keep a promise they made to a dying friend and veteran nearly 30 years ago.

"We really loved him," said Wanda in a phone interview. "It was really important for us to keep that promise to him. And to show we love our veterans and our country."

On Veterans Day, the Sandozes will be able to legally re-erect a simple 7-foot cross on Sunrise Rock east of Baker in the Mojave National Preserve.

The Sandozes met and became good friends with Riley Bembry, one of the World War I veterans who first placed the cross on Sunrise Rock in 1934 as a way to honor the veterans of that war.

When Bembry became ill and frail, he asked Henry to watch over the cross. Henry agreed.

Bembry died a short time later in 1984.

"It means very much to me, yes, and also to our veterans and our Lord and Savior," said Henry, 73.

The cross had become the focus of a legal case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2000. The ACLU sued the federal government, asking that the cross be removed because the Christian symbol on federal land violated the First Amendment, prohibiting the government from endorsing any religion.

Soon the Liberty Institute in Plano, Tex., took up the cause for the Sandozes.

"If they hadn't come in on this we probably wouldn't have won," Wanda.

In 2002, the U.S. District Court Central District of California ruled in the ACLU's favor and the cross was encased in wood until an agreement could be reached.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned previous the ruling calling for the cross to be removed and sent the case back down to the U.S. District Court level.

A little more than a week after the ruling, the cross vanished. A replacement cross reappeared shortly after, but it was removed.

"We had people from all over the country offering us big granite crosses as replacements," Wanda said. "It was tempting, but we thought the cross should stay as the veterans wanted."

"Just a simple 7-foot white cross made of pipe," said Henry.

Earlier this year, a land swap was approved in which the Sandozes gave five acres of land to the Mojave Preserve in exchange for the one acre where the cross once sat. The land swap, putting the cross on private property, was finalized Friday.

"We're both just so happy that this is finally behind us," Wanda said. "It's been a 13-year battle. Henry had a big heart attack six or seven years ago and it's been a real concern that he was going to die before he saw this resolved."

For Henry, it's not only about keeping a promise to a friend, but honoring those who have served.

"Not having served, this is a way for me to give something back to them," he said.

The cross will be re-erected at 11 a.m. Nov. 11. A ceremony will follow at 1 p.m. The event is open to the public. Sunrise Rock is located on Cima Road off the 15 Freeway near Baker.

November 1, 2012

Environmentalists sue over Cadiz water project

Karen Tracy of Joshua Tree protests a groundwater management plan for the Cadiz project outside a San Bernardino County Supervisors meeting last month. (KURT MILLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)


Four environmental groups filed their second lawsuit against San Bernardino County on Thursday, Nov. 1, over a hotly contested proposal to pump water from Mojave Desert aquifers and send it to cities across the state.

The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project would extract groundwater from an open valley beneath 45,000 acres that Los Angeles-based Cadiz Inc. owns south of the Marble Mountains, 40 miles east of Twentynine Palms. The area lies between the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park in eastern San Bernardino County.

The $225 million project would provide water for about 400,000 people served by six water districts throughout California, including Jurupa Community Services District in Riverside County.

On Oct. 1, county supervisors approved a groundwater management plan for the project that would allow them to shut down operations when the water table drops to a certain threshold. That action gave the go-ahead for the plan to pump 50,000 acre-feet per year.

In their lawsuit, the Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club San Gorgonio chapter and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society say San Bernardino County failed to provide an environmental review and did not comply with its own groundwater ordinance, designed to protect resources in the desert.

“This shortsighted water grab will benefit those pushing more sprawl in Orange County, but it’ll rob some of California’s rare species of the water they need to survive,” said Adam Lazar, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Our desert, the residents of San Bernardino County and Orange County ratepayers all deserve better.”

County spokesman David Wert disagreed. “We believe the groundwater ordinance was adhered to and the approval followed the county’s procedures. It was proper and in the best interests of the county and the environment.”

This is the third lawsuit challenging the project. The same four environmental groups filed a lawsuit Aug. 31 against San Bernardino County and an Orange County water district, contending the county should have led the environmental review of the project, not the Santa Margarita Water District in Mission Viejo, which has signed on as a future buyer of the water from Cadiz Inc.

The water district is named in the August suit for approving the environmental impact report on the project on July 31.

Also suing is Delaware Tetra Technologies Inc., which operates a brine mining operation at two dry lakes near Cadiz Inc.’s property. The company filed suit against San Bernardino County and Santa Margarita Water District, saying they violated state environmental law by not making the county the lead agency, instead of Santa Margarita.

Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, who has received more than $48,000 in campaign contributions from Cadiz in the past five years, has said the project would benefit the county by creating jobs and providing a hedge against uncertain water supplies from Northern California.

Environmentalists said the pumping would cause a drop in the water table that would dry up springs supporting bighorn sheep and other wildlife, could cause dust storms on nearby dry lake beds that would adversely affect air quality, and overdraw the water table.