Quechan Indian Tribe Sues BLM Over Imperial Valley Solar Project
Posted in Litigation

On October 29, 2010, the Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation filed a complaint (pdf) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California against the U.S. Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for actions approving a 709-megawatt solar project in the Imperial Valley between Octotillo and El Centro in southern California. The complaint challenges the BLM’s final approval of Tessara’s (formerly Sterling Energy Systems) 6,144-acre Imperial Valley Solar Project on BLM land under the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  With respect to NEPA, the plaintiff alleged that defendants failed to determine whether historical or cultural resources occur on the project site and the National Environmental Policy Act because the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) does not adequately consider cultural impacts on the Tribe from destruction and loss of tribal archaeological sites and the proposed-federally listed flat-tailed horned lizard.

The Quechan Tribe’s Reservation lands run along the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona; however, according to the complaint, the Tribe historically occupied lands spanning present-day Arizona and southern California, including the project site between Octotillo and El Centro. The flat-tailed horned lizard plays a significant role in the Quechan Tribal creation story.

The complaint also challenges BLM’s approval of an amendment to the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA)—BLM’s resource management plan covering 25 million acres within southern California—allowing for solar energy and a right-of-way grant to lease land managed by the BLM for construction and operation of a solar electricity generation facility. The complaint alleges that the BLM’s approval of the CDCA amendment violates the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act because the CDCA designates the project site as Class L lands for lower intensity uses and BLM failed to evaluate or consider whether the project would constitute a lower intensity use.  The complaint also alleges the FEIS fails to adequately consider cumulative impacts from other planned solar projects.

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Nossaman’s Endangered Species Law & Policy blog focuses on news, events, and policies affecting endangered species issues in California and throughout the United States. Topics include listing and critical habitat decisions, conservation and recovery planning, inter-agency consultation, and related developments in law, policy, and science. We also inform readers about regulatory and legislative developments, as well as key court decisions.

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