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Park Service Experts Speak Out
Against Soda Mountain

The Alliance for Desert Preservation has been speaking out and petitioning against the Soda Mountain Solar Project, recently approved by the Bureau of Land Management. The project would cover almost 2,000 acres of desert land with solar panels and other equipment—right next to the entrance to the Mojave National Preserve. It would scrape the land bare of native vegetation. And—shockingly, in this time of prolonged drought—it would also pump out of the desert more then 300,000 gallons of groundwater a day.

Countless experts have expressed vehement opposition to the project. Following are quotes from a number of them, most of them current or former National Park Service employees uniquely positioned to have extremely informed opinions about the project.

Note: The National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management are sister agencies. What are we to think of a project so riddled with problems that the BLM can’t even get its own sister to sign on?

Mojave National Preserve Superintendent Todd Suess

“We did what we could and provided [to BLM] the information we had and the science we felt was good, sound science. And we feel the decision they made went the wrong direction. We were surprised.”

Source: E&E News Greenwire, June 28, 2016

 

Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks

The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks is an organization composed of former National Park Service rangers, park superintendents, and scientists. Here’s what Maureen Finnerty, chair of the executive council of the organization, had to say about Soda Mountain:

“…it is deeply disappointing on a very personal level to see the Interior Department make such a poor decision, following years of opposition by Mojave National Preserve’s Superintendent and many other current and former park officials.”

Source: National Parks Conservation Association Press Release, April 5, 2016

 

Former Mojave National Preserve Superintendent Mary Martin

Here is what a former superintendent of the national preserve wrote last year about the Soda Mountain Solar Project:

“This highly controversial project, opposed by the National Park Service, could harm the migration of these bighorn sheep, damage habitat for the desert tortoise and burrowing owl, and infringe on the natural scenery and recreational opportunities so dear to visitors.”

“I was heartened by the news on June 11, shortly after the department’s decision, that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti went on record saying that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power would not buy energy from this harmful project, raising the hope that conservation could win out over badly sited industrialization.”

Source: “Mojave Is a Magical Place. Let’s Protect My Former Home”—blog post, National Parks Conservation Association, June 29, 2015

Former Mojave National Preserve Superintendents Mary Martin and Dennis Schramm

In this newspaper opinion piece, two former superintendents of the Mojave National Preserve expressed numerous concerns about Soda Mountain:

“…There is currently inadequate information to determine if project pumping would harm [Soda] spring and without this conclusive data it risks irreversibly damaging the [Mohave tui chub’s] habitat and chance of survival. The Zzyzx area also has springs, small wetlands and ponds that attract a wide variety of migratory, resident and sensitive birds like the yellow headed blackbird and least bittern. Birds would be attracted to the sprawling photovoltaic panels, increasing a strong likelihood for collisions that could cause injury and death.”

“We ask that the BLM analyze the Soda Mountain location with the same level of scrutiny that was given to private lands and to broaden the search for alternative locations for the project that do not jeopardize communities or natural resources.”

Source: “Relocate the Mojave National Preserve’s planned Soda Mountain Solar Project: Guest Commentary,” San Bernardino Sun, June 16, 2014

 

Former Mojave National Preserve Superintendent Stephanie Dubois

In a public comment letter to the BLM in 2014, then-superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve, Stephanie Dubois, wrote:

“[The project would have] significant levels of irreversible unavoidable impacts to the cultural and natural resources of the project area and surrounding lands, which includes the resources managed and protected by the Mojave National Preserve.”

“To date, there is not enough information available regarding the groundwater table that feeds MC Spring and Lake Tuendae to know the threshold of impact by groundwater drawdown at the Soda Mountain Solar project site.”

“Consumptive use of groundwater during construction and operation in an area of limited recharge…may threaten nearby natural spring discharge.”

Source: Public Comments on the Soda Mountain Solar Project, March 3, 2014

  

Not Just the Park Service, But the United States Environmental Protection Agency Has Real Problems With the Soda Mountain Project

Like the BLM, the EPA is a federal agency. Unlike the BLM, the EPA recognizes the potential danger of pumping out 300,000 gallons of groundwater a day from the San Bernardino County desert:

“EPA is concerned about groundwater availability for the proposed project and potential impacts to sensitive resources nearby.”

“The disturbance of desert pavement as well as other grading in the project area could have the potential for the spread of dust and potentially the spread of Coccidioidomycosis or Valley Fever spores. Cases of valley fever have been documented in San Bernardino County.”

Source: Letter from EPA Agency Region IX to BLM Soda Mountain Solar Project Manager, March 3, 2014