By Jacob Overson
Growing up in one of the California desert’s last remaining ranching families instilled in me a deep love of open spaces, wildlife and the independent people who call the desert home. My family taught me to work hard, make decisions carefully and steward the fragile desert ecosystem.
As manager of the Baker Community Services District (Baker CSD) I call on 1st District Supervisor Robert Lovingood and the other San Bernardino County Supervisors to oppose the Soda Mountain Solar Project.
The Soda Mountain Solar Project undermines our county’s interests, harms communities, jeopardizes a national park unit and contradicts our county renewable energy ordinance. Thousands of San Bernardino County residents and numerous local organizations, businesses, scientists, recreation groups, and gateway communities vocally oppose the project.
Soda Mountain Solar has been forced on the County and local communities by outside interests seeking their own political and financial goals, while we deal with the environmental consequences.
Political appointees from the Department of Interior’s Washington office railroaded this through approvals despite the agency’s local desert staff saying “no.” San Bernardino County was thrown under the bus so that the Obama Administration could claim progress on their renewable energy development goals.
Meanwhile, San Francisco-based Bechtel Group, a multi-national corporation, capitalized on the motivations of the Interior Department and rammed the project through a federal environmental review process. We recently found out they immediately plan to sell it to another San Francisco company, Regenerate Power.
Once again, our county and local communities have to pay the price as we watch San Francisco companies play “Monopoly” and literally manipulate our landscape and way of life. Luckily we can stop this game right here at home before the company passes go and collects hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money.
The National Park Service (NPS) remains opposed to the project as it would irrevocably harm the Mojave National Preserve. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has expressed grave concerns related to the irreversible harm to wildlife corridors and bighorn sheep. Those who live in Baker are concerned about how the project’s groundwater pumping will impact our community’s water resources.
Finally, our community is concerned that the project’s degradation of national park resources will harm the local economy. According to NPS statistics, in 2015 there were almost 600,000 visitors to the Mojave National Preserve who spent over $33 million and their economic contribution directly and indirectly created 486 jobs throughout the region. We have a vested interest in protecting the Preserve’s resources and ensuring that it continues to be a destination for tourists who love wildlife and wilderness.
The manner in which the Interior Department has recklessly pushed this project forward raises fundamental questions about how they will implement the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).
San Bernardino County Supervisor Lovingood and the rest of our Board of Supervisors can support sound renewable energy policy by rejecting Soda Mountain Solar’s water permit and refusing to certify it. The county should seize this opportunity to take back control from Washington and San Francisco interests on behalf of their desert residents.
Jacob Overson grew up ranching in the California desert and is currently the manager of the Baker Community Services District.
August 1, 2016