• Steve Brown

Supervisors unanimously approve Daggett Solar Power Project

Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe voices concerns for the developers of the Daggett Solar Power Project.
Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe voices concerns for the developers of the Daggett Solar Power Project.

After hearing an extensive list of concerns over the negative impacts likely to occur from the Daggett Solar Power Project, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors recently voted unanimously to approve the project.

The list of concerns that the supervisors chose to not look into, nor to inquire into at any depth, included water use impacts on nearby residents and wildlife habitat; air quality issues that included an absolute lack of monitoring in the area; quality of life issues for rural residents, including concerns about airborne particulates literally killing residents who live nearby with COPD and other respiratory issues; economic justic issues; destruction of more than 70 ancient creosote rings that date up to 4,200 years old; airport operations, including military aviation operations for the U.S. Army's training base at Fort Irwin; and, the clear and obvious violations of county code and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which is illegal for the supervisors to ignore. This leaves the Board of Supervisors open to legal action, which is reportedly being considered by local government.

Retiring First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood commented that he made his decision after hearing from constituents who were roughly split between supporting and opposing the project. This was only true if one included union representatives from Apple Valley and other unrelated areas of the desert that wouldn't be impacted by the project. Nearly all residents of the Newberry Springs area, which stands to be the most negatively impacted rural community when the project is built, voiced strong and reasoned opposition, including two residents who have homes situated immediately near the project area with COPD, who testified the project could kill them through a decrease in air quality.

Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe voiced concern for the project developers, while minimizing the concerns of residents. Rowe, whose highly questionable appointment process has led to a Superior Court judge ordering the Board of Supervisors to rescind her appointment in September, remains on the Board of Supervisors while the county appeals the ruling that found county government in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state's law governing open meetings of public officials.

Rowe expressed concern that it wasn't fair to change the rules on the project developers after they had applied, ignoring the fact that nearly all of the concerns expressed by county residents and her constituents were consistent with county code and CEQA - things that hadn't changed at all during the application and approval process. Either Rowe knew this and chose to misrepresent it, or should have known this but didn't do the proper research into the project and concerns about it.

"I just had one quick comment, and I know that when we passed the Renewable Energy Conservation Element, the Section 4.10, we all knew that there were some of these projects that would move forward that were grandfathered in, regardless of how frustrated that may have made us. However, having said that you cannot change the rules on anybody midway. It's the fault perhaps, or the lack of foresight that the county had not to see that this was coming in some of our areas that would effect our residents, but that doesn't mean you change the goal posts on the developer, and that's these companies have a tremendous amount invested hopefully to mitigate all of the impacts that were mentioned today and to make our neighborhoods better. And I understand that those negative impacts that will be had on those Newberry Springs residents, but I just wanted to point out that it is also not fair to the development community to make those changes mid-project. They have a lot invested in their project in our community and our county, so I wanted to balance that."

The approval process for the Daggett Solar Power Project by the Board of Supervisors demonstrated a clear disregard for whether or not the county needs to follow its own code, or state law, in its decision-making. One common complaint about some environmental groups is that they're always suing when "they don't get their way." As one attorney for one of those frequently criticized organizations noted, "We wouldn't be suing anyone if the government followed its own laws."

With this decision, the Board of Supervisors chose to disregard county code, state law, and the concerns of their own constituents, the taxpaying residents of San Bernardino County, as well as civil aviation, and military readiness and training. Science on the role the natural desert environment provides in sequestering carbon and battling the effects of climate change was also not considered, raising the question of whether county supervisors care about the county's own policies on climate change and renewable energy, or are competent to make decisions about it.

Whether or not the project would be ultimately approved, the Board of Supervisors had an obligation to their constituents to ensure the project followed county code and CEQA, as well as to investigate properly the other concerns voiced by county residents, local government, and organizations. They chose to dismiss those concerns, and to irresponsibly violate county code and state law.

Mojave Watch will follow the repercussions of this poor decision rendered by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, along with any subsequent legal action.

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