Save the valley…from the Planning Department by Daniel Pritchett
Last winter the Inyo County Planning Department (ICPD) released a draft Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment (REGPA) which triggered an unprecedented outpouring of public opposition to siting industrial-scale solar facilities in Inyo County, and Owens Valley in particular. Last spring the Board of Supervisors directed ICPD to address public concerns, and ICPD has now produced a draft programmatic EIR for the proposed REGPA.
It appears ICPD learned little from all those meetings and public comments. I write this because ICPD’s preferred alternative will lead to “significant and unavoidable impacts,” and, by ICPD’s own admission, its preferred alternative is the least environmentally sound of all those considered. Does ICPD really think this is what the public wants?
An important problem with last spring’s draft REGPA was the conflicts it created with existing land management plans. Existing plans require non-urban DWP land to be managed for sustainable uses such as agriculture and grazing, as well as providing habitat for threatened species. They preclude industrial development. The conflicts between last spring’s REGPA and existing management plans were noted repeatedly in public comments. The new draft REGPA EIR creates the same conflicts as last spring’s draft by proposing a Solar Energy Development Area (SEDA) on DWP land at Laws. It’s as though all those meetings and comment letters never happened.
Existing DWP land management plans are a hard won mitigation measure specified in the 1997 MOU to the Inyo-LA Long Term Water Agreement. Inyo County is a party to this MOU yet ICPD seems to think compliance is optional. We’re accustomed to DWP signing agreements and then breaking them but we shouldn’t tolerate this behavior from Inyo County. If the county wants to industrialize open space at Laws, it should re-negotiate the MOU and obtain other mitigation before modifying the General Plan
In addition to opening inappropriate land for industrial development, the new REGPA EIR fails to close land (i.e. Owens Valley) the public overwhelmingly insisted should be closed. Last spring’s proposed “Owens Valley REDA,” which inspired so much opposition, has been greatly enlarged in the new REGPA EIR and renamed the “Owens Valley study area.” This opens the door for the next planning initiative (scheduled for 2015) to propose even more industrialization in Owens Valley than was proposed last spring. County supervisors and ICPD are supposed to work for the public; in this case they are doing the opposite.
There are other problems with this new REGPA EIR which bias it toward industrial-scale solar even while ICPD claims to be trying to protect the county from inappropriate development. I hope everyone reading this letter will tell ICPD the comment period must be extended at least through the end of January. Then, read the EIR (as much as you can tolerate) and submit a comment. If we all make our voices heard we may still be able to save the valley… from the Planning Department.