Construction Disturbs the Desert Day and Night

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^An Ocotillo in the desert at sunset, with a small "city" in the distance -- the new Sunrise Powerlink construction yard.

Text and photos by Terry Weiner, Desert Protective Council.

San Diego Gas & Electric Company Sunrise Powerlink construction zones on public land in Ocotillo, Imperial County, California. Part 1: July 21 and July 28th, 2011.

On a trip heading west toward San Diego from El Centro on the night of the July 21st about 10 miles east of the tiny desert town of Ocotillo, I became aware of an extraordinarily bright white glare to the north of Ocotillo. This part of Imperial County, west of the rather brightly lit US Gypsum plant is mostly Bureau of Land Management open desert surrounded by low mountains containing BLM wilderness areas and thus is an area of very dark skies. The only light emanating from Ocotillo is from the blinking red lights on a cell tower just east of town, thus the huge area of glare was very shocking. As I neared Ocotillo on highway 8, the glare seemed as though some huge brightly lit city with malls and ball fields had sprung up north of Ocotillo. It was very late and I was not able to take the highway north to discover the source of the glare. The glare is visible from the Jacumba and Inkopah Mountains, though I was not able to crane my neck around while driving. I could see it as I ascended the mountains west of Ocotillo until the road curved into the hills and blocked the view. I have grave concerns about the impacts of the light pollution on wildlife for miles around. Also, I like to camp in this area and camping would be impossible for miles around because of this glare.

On the afternoon of July 28th, I drove north of the town of Ocotillo on highway S2 leading to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. At 4 miles north of town, I came upon the source of the hideous night lighting. On the west side of S2, adjacent to the road, was a cleared area of less than an acre with construction equipment and several very very tall poles attached to the top of which were mounted huge flood lights. There was no fencing around this site and no workers present around 6PM.

^Night-lighting equipment makes this wild area too bright during the dark hours.

The BLM El Centro office informed me on August 17th that this construction zone is on a State Lands Commission parcel and on my visit to the area on August 18th, the construction zone had been dismantled with a lattice tower on pedestals in place and a bunch of dirt and tire tracks were the construction equipment had been.

It looks as though SDG&E is creating this type of impact at every tower site. The transmission towers visible in the background are the already existing southwest powerlink. Although the Sunrise Powerlink parallels the old transmission line, the new line is being sited far enough away from the first one to create a visual impact that is more than double the impact of one transmission line. It absolutely transforms the view shed into an industrial pathway.

Part 2 describing the much larger construction yard on the east side of S 2.

On my July 28th excursion to chase down the source of the night lighting, I continued another 1/2 mile or so north on S 2 to the site of a much larger SDG&E construction yard on the East Side of S 2, off a paved road on BLM land leading up to a mine site in the Coyote Mountains. This site of more than 5 acres in size is completely fenced with chain link and barbed wire on top and has a mind-boggling amount of equipment contained within. Also large lights mounted on poles. Here are some photos of the area and the desert surrounding the site on which all plants except a couple of forlorn looking Ocotillo have been obliterated.

I took the first photo as I turned off S 2 onto the road leading to the site. Then I drove beyond the fenced site to try to capture the size of it from a distance. You can see they store the lattice tower pieces there for helicoptering to the individual pad sites. The helicopter overflights have an impact on the usual utter peace and quiet of this area and I am sure the birds and lizards and mammals notice. The helicopter noise would definitely keep away the bighorn sheep. A few of the photos I took looking through the fence cloth.

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^Quiet desert nearby, with Creosote (Larrea tridentata) and Big galleta grass (Pleuraphis rigida).

^Ocotillos (Fouquieria splendens) and Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) also inhabit the desert.

^Galleta grass.

^Silver cholla (Cylindropuntia echinocarpa).

^Sunset in the Colorado Desert.

^Construction yard near Jacumba. Dust is from helicopter landing. This used to be an Saltbush (Atriplex canescens)-filled valley almost at the border of Mexico.

Night-lighting Too Bright

I called Daniel Steward, Branch Resources Chief, BLM El Centro last week to talk to him about the night lighting.

He said that he knows about it and that they have to do night construction because of the worker injuries from the heat in the day, including burns from handling the steel. He told me at first that SDG&E had to obtain a permit from local authorities and pointed toward the county, but then when I met with him last Friday he said that the company obtained a variance for doing night construction all along the Sunrise Powerlink Route and that this was discussed in the Environmental Impact Statement and that I could find reference to it in the California Public Utilities Commission docketing web site. I asked him what the proper course for filing a complaint about this is and he said there might be a form on the CPUC web site with the documents.

I have trouble believing that the CPUC is the proper agency to grant permission to create severe night time light impacts on the BLM land surrounded by State Park, wilderness areas and Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. I am not sure really to whom to appropriately make the complaint but Daniel said construction could take up to two years and I think it is wrong to even have continued night construction since at least July when I first noticed it. Some Ocotillo residents have seen and been appalled by the glare but they don't seem to know the proper avenue for trying to get them to cease and desist. Of all of the impacts on the ground I have seen from this project, the night glare to me it the most egregious.

I also noted that there is evidence of damage to the desert next to all routes used by the heavy trucks going to and coming from the various sites.

Here is a fact from the San Diego Union Tribune: SDG&E is currently using 300,000 gallons daily of potable drinking water, trucked from the Lake Murray Reservoir just east of San Diego to the various construction sites.

 

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