Water concerns aired at City Hall

Residents question potential impact of Fremont Valley Preservation Project

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

As the comment period for a neighboring solar and water-banking project came to a close, concerns about potential local impacts were aired during the public comment period of last week’s Ridgecrest City Council meeting.

The topic was first broached by Donna Thomas of the East Kern Conservation District, who brought letters from the board regarding the Fremont Valley Preservation Pro-ject — which includes proposals for a 1,008-megawatt solar photovoltaic electrical generating facility, a water recharge and production facility and a native water extraction facility.

The project would be located on some 4,800 acres of undeveloped, but previously disturbed, land near Cantil. (See related story, this page).

“I think it has effects even up here in Ridgecrest, and we are encouraging people to write letters,” said Thomas. “It might take you a little while to get through the draft EIR — it’s 965 pages long.” The appendixes are 6,840 pages.

Thomas said that the main concern of the EKCD board relates to the water-banking portion. The environmental impact report, prepared by Kern County, outlines the plan for percolation ponds and injection wells.

Proponents of the project are expected to eventually transport some of the water from that banking facility outside of Kern County.

Thomas said that the project leads don’t have a source for the water banking, which means the native water shipped out of county may not be recovered. “To me, this is not a banking project — they are mining water from that valley.”

She said that other potential impacts that need to be considered include those relating to air quality, airspace, valley fever, the Cal UAS project at IYK and tourism.

Although the public comment period for the EIR closed Nov. 18, Sophia Merk told the council that the Kern County Board of Supervisors will review letters at its Dec. 4 meeting. Letters must be submitted by Nov. 28.

Councilwoman Lori Acton said that Kern County Planner Lorelei Oviatt will address the council Dec. 18.

Mayor Dan Clark recommended that the council write a letter to the board stating the council’s posture on the project. “I think that’s critical.”

“I would request we at least reserve comment until we give Ms. Oviatt a chance to make her presentation, and then we submit letters,” said Vice Mayor Chip Holloway.

Acton said that since public comment has already closed, “I prefer we write and I prefer we do it very quickly.”

“I don’t have a problem with writing a letter, generally, but since we have yet to hear a presentation, I don’t want to accuse the county of anything,” said Councilman Steven Morgan.

Clark then suggested the council send a letter in opposition to the water exportation.

“I don’t think you meant to say what you just said,” said Holloway. “What you said was that you want to state opposition to the project. I think what you meant was that you want to make sure we have adequate time to gather information and then make comments before they make a decision.”

“I don’t know if we can wait,” said Acton.

“Well I don’t have adequate information to make a decision right now.”

Morgan said that Acton and others have been working on the issue behind the scenes. “There are a lot of things going on that we don’t talk about … it just seems from some of the comments we received that we need to do something. Things are being done.”

Story First Published: 2013-11-27