Wind kicks up dust, controversy

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Wind kicks up dust, controversyWinds kicking up dust over an Inyokern pistachio orchard under development have stirred up complaints among the westside residents of the Indian Wells Valley and prompted the East Kern Air Pollution Control District to levy a fine against the property owner.

“It is an environmental disaster of epic proportions,” Steven Pennix, who owns property adjacent to the development, wrote to the News Review.

“The entire site is turning into a massive sand dune.”

According to Kern County Air Pollution Control Officer Glen Stevens, about a dozen residents have logged complaints about the site, prompting his staff to come out to Inyokern and assess the situation.

“We have contacted the landowner and asked him to get equipment on site to take care of the problem,” said Stevens. He ac-knowledged that Mike McGee, the property owner, has been issued a fine, though he did not say how much it would be.

Stevens said that about a dozen people have so far complained about the issue.

Among those is resident Jim Hackney, who wrote in an e-mail to Gerald Barrett of the Eastern Kern Air Pollution Control District that he is concerned about the risk the dust poses to the health of a family member, who has a condition that is exacerbated by the current air quality.

“As I sit here typing this letter I have to consider the possibility that I am going to have to move out of our home for the next few weeks due to this ongoing issue that seems to have no end in sight,” wrote Hackney.

“We are now processing a Notice of Violation to the land owner for creating a nuisance for this community and for a health and safety violation,” Barrett wrote in an e-mail to Hackney. “We hope this will settle the matter and have directed the land owner to mitigate further dust nuisances.”

The issue of dust first arose several weeks ago, but when following rainstorms offered a temporary solution, the initial fervor died down. Outcry flared up again this weekend after billowing dust clouds began raining down silt on neighboring residences.

Those who shared their complaints with the News Review said that the empty lot has created a perpetual brown fog that prohibits neighboring residents from being able to comfortably stay outdoors. Some have even claimed that the silt infiltrates the indoors — and is expected to get worse once residents start running swamp coolers.

McGee told the News Review that he regrets the inconvenience to residents.

He said this week his team will be planting crop cover and that it will be watered until the root system is in place. “We are doing our best to reduce the impact on everyone, but as with all forms of expansion, there will be some impact.”

Pennix, a wildlife biologist, said he is also concerned about whether McGee will be able to get the problem under control. “I think they have created a permanent air-quality disaster out here. You cannot get enough water, short of a lake, to contain the soil ever again. I can’t think of a single other location in this entire valley that has this problem to this extent.”

“I received a hail of e-mails on this issue,” Denny Kline, field representative for Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason, told the News Review on Monday. “From what I can tell, they are right — we have a problem.

“Anyone who has lived out here for more than a season knows that we have winds in the spring. And if you scrape the patina off the land, you know with a moral certainty it will create a dust storm.”

Kline said that Gleason has made this issue a priority, and that the supervisor and his staff are working diligently to reach out to the property owner as well as the appropriate county offices to find a solution for local residents.

McGee’s property was the subject of a debate at a recent Inyokern Airport Board meeting, where Pennix questioned the risk to public safety of having a pistachio orchard in an approach corridor to the airport. He said that such a development would increase the risk of bird-aircraft strike hazard for pilots.

The airport board responded that such an issue was in the county’s purview. Although county officials have been investigating dust mitigation, the planning office has indicated that the project is not in violation of compliance since no permits are needed to plant trees.

Story First Published: 2013-03-20