BLM Begins Rio Mesa Project EIS Process to Strong Opposition Over Desert Solar Siting
Story and photo by Robert Lundahl
September 17, 2012 (Blythe, California)–The Bureau of Land Management scoping meeting for the Rio Mesa Solar Plant outside Blythe, California likely caused heartburn for the BLM, applicant Brightsource, and related subcontractors and agencies last Thursday.
Time and time again Native Elders stood up to declare concerns and articulate potentially unresolvable conflicts of values, goals, and process that have the potential to devastate Obama Administration hopes to build large solar across the deserts of California and the West.
BLM representative Lynette Elser declared the “government to government consultation process,” required by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, “began for the Rio Mesa Project in November 2011.” When questioned by Chemehuevi Elder and tribal member Phil Smith, Elser could not recall which tribes had been involved in discussions. She said BLM Associate Field Manager Holly Roberts would also not be able to recall. (See Video Press Release Supplement: https://vimeo.com/49510568).
Ft. Mohave Tribal Member and Mohave Indian Nation Traditional/Hereditary Chief, The Reverend Ronald Van Fleet, stated that he did not know of any requests for consultation at the time of the 9/15/2012 meeting, asking, “Who are we to trust here?”
The BLM is obligated by the federal government’s “Trust Relationship” (holding lands and cultural resources in trust) with tribes, to follow the rules they made.
“An incoherent or non-existent Section 106 process undermines that trust relationship, and is helping to unravel Obama Administration solar policies across the West,” says Cory Briggs, Attorney for La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle. La Cuna filed complaints in late 2010 against the Departments of Interior and Energy, against the BLM, and against several applicant companies, including Brightsource, which had become associated with Robert Kennedy Jr. and VantagePoint Partners.
“We said no,” declared Reverend Van Fleet, “When is it going to get through your head?” A million dollars is nothing, do we have to fine you a billion dollars for violating one of our cremation sites, or 10 billion dollars? I think that’s a pretty number. Do we have to go to court to do that? That’s the only thing you understand is the money.”
Van Fleet was joined by 15 Mohave Nation Elders and Councilmembers, and by Elders and Councilmember’s from the CRIT Indian Nation (Colorado River Indian Tribes), which includes Hopi, Navajo, Chemehuevi, and Mohave peoples. CRIT Councilperson Amanda Barrera noted that the National Congress of American Indians, NCAI, adopted a resolution introduced by CRIT, opposing the Department of Interior Fast-Track Policies of Renewable Energy Projects on Ancestral Homelands http://www.ncai.org/resources/resolutions/opposing-the-department-of-int….
La Cuna’s Founder, Sr. Alfredo Acosta Figueroa, a Chemehuevi Nation Cultural Monitor, added that the siting of the Rio Mesa facility is on and near areas sacred to Uto-Aztecan peoples. The three peaks close to the site are called Cali, which is from the Nahuatl language and reflects the origin of the name of the State of California.
Additionally, he states, the recent discovery of hundreds of acres of mammoth fossils on the Rio Mesa site, and the BLM’s continuation of the scoping process regardless, is inconsistent with the recent establishment of a National Monument in the Las Vegas Valley, where Nevada Senator Harry Reid helped to protect similar deposits.
“They can declare a National Monument anywhere they want, said Figueroa.”