Locally, it’s been called a good project in a bad location – an undertaking that, when finished, will reduce a metropolis’ reliance on non-renewable energy sources but permanently scar 1,200 acres of wild and historically important landscape.
It’s also been called the beginning of the end for the Owens Valley’s relatively untouched open spaces – the start of piece-meal industrialization.
Now, residents of Los Angeles will have their chance to weigh in on the L.A. Department of Water and Power’s proposed Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch at a public hearing on Nov. 16.
The hearing, scheduled for 10 a.m. at the John Ferraro Building, 111 N. Hope St., is LADWP’s response to multiple, on-the-record requests for such a meeting so that its Southern California ratepayers, who also comprise a good portion of Inyo County’s scenery-loving tourist-base, can provide input as well.
Among those heralding the LADWP’s decision is Les Inafuku, superintendent of Manzanar National Historic Site.
“I’m really thankful the DWP has agreed to host this meeting,” he said Tuesday, noting that a contingent of Owens Valley residents was planning to be in attendance to help provide a full picture of the project to those in L.A. who most likely have been unaware of it until now.
“Besides a few of the people in the valley who will be in attendance, I would hope to see a good turnout from those in L.A., too,” Inafuku said.
In particular, Inafuku is hoping for the input from the Japanese American community in Southern California, especially the nisei – second generation Japanese Americans who were interned at Manzanar as children.
Manzanar is located almost directly across U.S. 395 from where LADWP wants to erect 1-2 million photovoltaic panels, a 3,000 square-foot maintenance building and 300,000 square-foot substation building – a structure larger than a Walmart Supercenter (250,000 square feet).
The project also calls for lighting at night, fencing, access roads and clearing the entire 1,200 acres of vegetation in an area prone to wind storms.
Inafuku and Manzanar National Historic Site have objected to the project location within the historic viewshed, citing irreversible destruction of the cultural landscape and a negative impact on the visitor experience as a whole. Manzanar attracts an average of 82,000 visitors a year who contribute an estimated $8.4 million to the local economy.
While it’s been noted the project will bring economic stimulus to the county via 10 new, permanent LADWP wage-paying jobs and a temporary workforce of around 300, the environmental impacts of the project have proven exceedingly unpopular.
At a September hearing in Bishop hosted by the LADWP, several speakers mentioned the project’s impacts on historical and archeological resources, as well as native vegetation and flood plains.
Speakers also requested an L.A. meeting. Among those asking for LADWP to seek L.A. ratepayer input was David Lathrop of the National Park Conservation Association, a well-funded lobbying group that officially went on record in opposition to the Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch.
The Bishop meeting was held as part of LADWP’s mandatory public comment period following the publication of its Draft Environmental Impact Report.
Residents discussed perceived deficiencies with the environmental analysis, including the fact that the impact to the view of the valley from the Inyo Mountains is not even mentioned.
The discussion continued at the Oct. 15 Inyo County Board of Supervisors meeting where the board took public comment for about an hour before approving the county’s official response to the Draft EIR. The board is considering entering into a Memorandum of Understanding with LADWP that, among other perks, gives the county $4.5 million to offset project impacts in exchange for the county not commenting on the Final EIR or challenging the project. As such, the Oct. 15 meeting was viewed as possibly the county’s – and the supervisors’ constituents – last chance to get critical points in on the record.
Included in the public comments given that day were compliments on the quality of the county’s comments, but also requests for changes and additions that went unheeded.
A few suggestions came from Bishop resident Daniel Pritchett. He pointed out that under the “No Alternative” listing in the Draft EIR, LADWP states that not constructing the project as proposed “would not fulfill any of the proposed project objectives” and would result in increased greenhouse gas emissions – in effect laying a guilt trip and all the responsibility for meeting its project goals on Inyo County.
“We shouldn’t acquiesce to the implied idea that we have to solve their problems,” he said, urging the board to take advantage of the opportunity to stand up to LADWP’s “bullying” by pointing out in the county’s official response the inaccuracy of that sentence. “If we don’t give it our best shot, we’ll be selling our constituents short. It’s your job to represent that county’s interests and sometimes you have to take risks.”
The idea died with Board Chair Linda Arcularius saying she didn’t feel bullied by LADWP and didn’t agree with the use of the term.
Although the public comment period for the Draft EIR ended Nov. 2, LADWP has given its assurances that all input gathered at the Nov. 16 hearing – including written comments submitted that day for the record – will be given the same consideration and weight as input collected prior to Nov. 2.
Lone Pine resident Mike Prather, who will be making the trip to L.A. next week, encourages Inyo residents who haven’t commented yet to also attend and get their feelings on the record.
“This project is an excellent idea in a terrible place,” he said. “There is no need to permanently scar two square miles of the southern Owens Valley when multiple alternatives exist. As for rehabilitation, just look at 10 years of failure in Laws and dust it produces. After the conservation easement concept failed in 2004, Councilman LaBonge and then-General Manager of DWP Frank Salas assured us that Los Angeles would keep the valley looking the way it currently did.”
The meeting will be held on the “A” level, Room 1 through the cafeteria. Parking will be free and there should be more of it than usual, given that the meeting is being held on a Saturday.