June Protests and Ground-Breaking

^Protesters near Kokopilli Geoglyph, while in the foreground an old growth Desert ironwood tree (Olneya tesota) has been bulldozed to make way for a new wide road.

June 21, 2011 - In early June, and again at a ground-breaking by Solar Millennium, members of La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Circle, the Chemehuevi Tribe, the Quechan Tribe from Winterhaven, California,and local residents and desert activists gathered twice in June at the site of the massive Blythe Solar Power Project on 7,000 acres of public land. Besides protesting the destruction of desert, cultural sites, traditional use access issues, and desert tortoise, the local folks also protested the lack of hiring of locals by Solar Millennium.

“They've destroyed geoglyphs of the sun,” said Patricia Figueroa of La Cuna de Aztlan, a group that has filed a lawsuit against several of the solar projects on public land east of the valley. “We're desperate. All geoglyphs are tied to the creation story.”

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar responded to questions about the protest by maintaining that the Obama administration considered “First American” concerns a top priority. But, he said, that didn't mean problems wouldn't arise.

“We have to make decisions to move forward in a way (that is) respectful of native concerns,” he said. “This at the end of the day is about jobs. We will power the energy security, the economic security of America into the future.”

^Desert ironwood trees bloom profusely in spring. It is a member of the Pea Family (Fabaceae).

^Protesters protect geoglyphs near new construction.

^The massive solar project will be built on the rolling flats of Palo Verde Mesa, below the Big Maria and McCoy Mountains. The area is largely unstudied for archaeology. Environmental Justice issues also remain unaddressed.

^A water truck keeps dust down on a new road. Tortoise exclusion fence blocks the road.

^Alfredo Figueroa, Blythe resident and founder of La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Circle explains the meaning of sacred sites on the natural desert pavement of the mesa. Geoglyphs (areas where surface rock was moved to create patterns and figures) are at risk of destruction.

^Widened access road to the solar project site.

^Phil Smith, Chemehuevi elder, says he has traditional use rights here, which have been ignored by agencies.

^Part of the geoglyph Kokopilli, held sacred as part of a Creation story by the group La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Circle.

^Widened access road goes right by and through many geoglyphs.

^Water truck and tortoise fence.

^Water truck spraying water to keep dust down.

^Palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) trees on the project site.

^Blue palo verde and creosote along the widened access road.

^Drying seed pods of Blue palo verde.

^Protesters along the new road. Geoglyphs lay close.

^Destruction: bulldozed ironwood tree and tortoise fence.

^Bulldozed desert microphyll woodland.

^Destroyed ironwood trees.

^Living ironwood trees nearby.

^Ironwood trees harbor a diversity of migrating and breeding birds.

^A project worker speeds by downed ironwood trees, kicking up dust (in violation of mitigation measures which have speed limits to reduce dust clouds).

^Protesters at a geoglyph near the new road.

^Bulldozed desert.

^Unique rounded pebbles of the Palo Verde Mesa desert pavement resulted from the ancient Colorado River washing over this terrace during the Ice Age, tens of thousands of years ago.

A sign at the site by Bureau of Land Management seems to contradict present activities.

^Protesters survey the destruction of desert.

^This desert pavement is a natural geological feature, and many archaeological sites are hidden within it.

^The new road lined with tortoise fence.

^A large pull-out in the road.

^Water truck and bulldozed ironwood trees.

^Work on the solar project carries on in the distance.

Ground-breaking Ceremony

June 18, 2011 - Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey, CEO of Solar Trust of America Uwe Schimdt, CEO of Solar Millennium AG from Germany Dr. Christoph Wolff, and California Governor Jerry Brown converged at the Blythe Solar Power Project site for a ceremonial ground-breaking and speech-making. Joseph DeConinck, Mayor of Blythe, also attended. The Golden shovels were brought out, and a small audience sat under a tent in the desert at the newly-widened road that will accommodate a new transmission line from the huge power plant to interconnection with the Devers-Palo Verde line heading to the coastal urban areas of California. After the tent event, black sedans whisked the Governor and Interior Secretary to Palo Verde Community College Auditorium for more speeches and a catered lunch. A bus brought in the other attendees.

“Breaking ground on what will be the world’s largest solar power project is a major milestone in our nation’s renewable energy economy and shows that the United States intends to compete and lead in the technologies of the future,” Salazar said. “This project shows in a real way how harnessing our own renewable resources can create good jobs here at home and contribute to our nation’s energy security.”

“It makes sense to power California with renewable wind and solar energy that protects clean air and water and promotes energy independence,” Governor Brown said. “We're going to be the world leader in solar energy,” Brown said. Brown was more succinct. “Energy is not Texas oil; it's California sun,” he said.

Outside, protesters gathered again, most local, to demand traditional access rights be honored to sacred desert areas, and cultural sites protected. The desert tortoise was brought up, as well as the lack of local job hires by the project. One recent graduate of a solar class at the community college told the group that most hires were union workers from distant Los Angeles, and he was skeptical "hundreds" of local workers would find jobs here.

Department of Interior press release:


See story and photos at MyDesert.com:


Solar Millennium YouTube:


KMIR-6 news video:


^Tent for ground-breaking ceremony is set up.

^Protesters are present next to the tent.

^Expensive cameras and news media get ready to film.

^Meanwhile at Palo Verde Community College, protesters wait peacefully for the entourage to come to the auditorium.

^Alfredo Figueroa explains the ancient historical significance of the desert mountain ranges to a local policeman.

^The entourage gets off a bus from the tent event, and walks past protesters into the auditorium.

^Protesters drum, sing, and offer prayers.


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