Quechan Tribe to take fight against solar project to D.C.
The Quechan Indian Tribe is preparing to take its fight against a proposed solar project in Imperial County to Washington, D.C., with plans to file a motion for summary judgment.
In doing so, the tribe hopes to win a permanent injunction after being granted a temporary injunction in December to halt development of the project west of El Centro.
Frank Jozwiak, attorney representing the Quechan Tribe, said Monday that he is preparing to file the motion within the next 30 days in federal district court in San Diego.
“We're looking at late spring or early summer for it to be heard,” he said, adding that he is confident the tribe will prevail in its efforts to protect the site it considers vital to its culture and history.
Tessera Solar had proposed developing a 709-kilowatt solar project on 6,571 acres, mostly on public land, in Imperial County 14 miles west of El Centro. The proposal is to use 28,860 SunCatcher Power System dishes that track the sun, with mirrors to collect and concentrate the power to be sold to San Diego Gas and Electric.
Quechan Tribal President Mike Jackson Sr. said the tribe knows that energy development is needed, but that isn't the appropriate site for it.
“We're not against (the project), but please don't destroy our history. Our ancestors are buried there. There are many sacred sites there. It would be impossible to work around them.”
He said he wants to preserve the sacred sites to save the tribe's history for the sake of future generations. But he also wants to help protect the desert.
“It's a beautiful desert out there and people want to tear it up for their own benefit. This is Mother Earth and it's our duty to save it.”
Tessera Solar spokeswoman Janette Coates told the Yuma Sun that the company “expects to have ongoing discussions with the tribe and we are optimistic that we will come to a solution that allows us to bring clean, renewable power to the Imperial Valley and San Diego.”
Last week, a meeting was held in the Quechan Tribal Chambers with representatives of the Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management and Tessera. The Early Neutral Evaluation Conference was court-ordered to see if a compromise could be reached among the parties.
“We told them there would be no compromise,” said Jackson, who contends that the tribe wasn't consulted in advance about the project, as required by federal law.
“They should have talked to us a couple of years ago. Our concern isn't with Tessera but with Salazar. We'll fight our battle in D.C.”
Jozwiak said the Quechan Tribe's position is that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar “violated federal law in many ways” when he approved Tessera Solar's project.
Primarily, Salazar violated the California Desert Conservation Area Land Management Plan, which prohibits large-scale energy facilities in the proposed project site, Jozwiak said. According to Jozwiak, Salazar also violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
“Our position is that these laws don't allow industrial uses,” Jozwiak said. “They violated their own plan.”
A lawsuit also was filed against the solar project by La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle of Blythe, which represents the people of Yaqui, Chemehuevi, Mohave and Cherokee ancestry. That lawsuit also contends that BLM did not provide adequate consultation under the National Register of Historic Places.
Joyce Lobeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6853.