Massive project sidelined

By JAMES SIMMONS

News Review Correspondent

In a sudden, breathtaking move, the Kern County Planning and Community Development Department has determined that the Draft Environmental Impact Review submitted by AquaHelio Resources in order to build its proposed Fremont Valley Preser-vation Project is likely now to be delayed several months, split into two or more projects or withdrawn by the applicant.

This sudden change was brought about by a department finding that material new information and developments had potential game-changing environmental impacts on the project, enough to require the reconstruction of the DEIR and its redistribution among the public, relevant agencies and constituencies impacted by the project.

These material new developments, according to a letter signed by Kern Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt, include emergency measures accompanying the drought proclamation by Gov. Jerry Brown and the reduction to zero of the amount of contracted water to be delivered to large water users in the Central Valley by the state and federal water-supply projects.

Despite having the project barely approved 3-2 by the county’s planning commission (right after a last minute “information break” which saw a switch of one commissioner’s vote), the project still appeared to be on a fast track to approval, causing at least one highly placed elected official to label the Planning Department’s advocacy of the project as “unseemly.”

Oviatt plans to recommend to the county supervisors in their Feb. 25 meeting that the project be sent back to staff for the adjustments she considers necessary for the DEIR to be sound enough to move forward again.

In the meantime, documents prepared by an early AquaHelio consultant show efforts to explain why such solar plants are exempt from paying California property taxes. So far, no party questioned on the issue would state an opinion on the current status of tax exemptions for new, large solar farms.

This change by the Kern Planning Department is expected to have no impact on the proceedings being conducted on the issue of groundwater quantities and qualities under the surface of the Indian Wells Valley.

The county is expected to conduct a public meeting on the recent report tonight at 6-9 p.m. at the Senior Center, 1247 Broadway St., Inyokern.

Story First Published: 2014-02-19