A standing-room-only crowd of several hundred residents from Lake Elsinore and surrounding communities gathered Tuesday evening to send this strong message to California Public Utilities Commission officials: A proposed hydro-electric project would be an environmental disaster for the area and should be stopped.
The residents congregated at Ortega High School in Lake Elsinore for a public meeting held by CPUC officials on the Talega-Escondido/Valley-Serrano 500 kV Interconnect Project. If constructed, the project would see nearly 32 miles of overhead power lines and 138 steel lattice towers stretching from the proposed Lake Elsinore Advanced Pump Storage Project (LEAPS) facility, southward to SDG&E's existing 230 kV Talega-Escondido transmission line in San Diego County, and northward to SCE's 500 kV Valley-Serrano transmission line in Riverside County.
The electrical transmission line and towers would wind through the Cleveland National Forest, just west of Lake Elsinore and other Southwest Riverside cities.
The project is still in the environmental review stages, and the purpose of Tuesday's meeting was to gather public comment.
During the meeting, Lake Elsinore Unified School District board member Jeanie Corral condemned the project’s high environmental risks and low returns to the community.
“You’re putting an entire ecosystem at risk,” she said. “None of the electricity generated will give jobs to our community or give power to our community.”
Lake Elsinore resident Chris Hyland cited questionable intentions by project applicant The Nevada Hydro Company.
“This whole project is a scam,” she said, calling out the years of combative back-and-forth between the company and the community.
The Nevada Hydro Company filed an application with the CPUC on October 9, 2007, to construct the TE/VS project. The LEAPS project dates back to the late 1980s and is inextricably tied to the TE/VS proposal: Both projects together are considered as a single proposal on the TE/VS application and for evaluating environmental impacts.
But from the onset the project has been met with criticism from residents and environmental groups who cite a litany of problems, including irreparable harm to wildlife and endangered species, increased fire risk from downed lines, decreased property values, seismic concerns, health risks associated with overhead lines, project costs (which by some estimates exceed $1 billion), and more.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Jonathan Evans, a staff attorney for the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, criticized TNHC’s proposal to build lines through sensitive forest lands.
“They’ve chosen the most environmentally destructive path possible,” he said. “We need to tell TNHC to support clean energy alternatives.”
Gene Frick, who represents Friends of the Forest --Trabuco District and Santa Rosa Plateau, chastised the CPUC officials repeatedly for not recording public comments during Tuesday's meeting.
“Why are we commenting if no one is recording what we’re saying?” he said, calling the process and the project “unconscionable.”
Frick also criticized the portion of the project proposal that calls for dam and reservoir construction at Decker Canyon in the Cleveland National Forest.
“There are no public meetings scheduled in Orange County,” Frick said, noting that if the proposed dam were to give way or spill, Orange County residents could be in peril. “Dams do break.”
Of the dozens who spoke out during Tuesday's meeting, no one expressed support for the project, and none of the TNHC principals came forward.
The CPUC is seeking public comments on the proposal through April 29. According to the project schedule, the CPUC will publish an Environmental Impact Report late this year, and public comments on the report will be heard next spring. A final EIR is expected April 2012.
The CPUC is holding another local public meeting Wednesday April 6 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Murrieta Community Center, 41810 Juniper St.
To see get more information on the project, click here.
To request additional information, contact:
Andrew Barnsdale, CPUC Project Manager
c/o Aspen Environmental Group
235 Montgomery Street, Suite 935
San Francisco, CA 94104
Fax or Voicemail: (877) 202-2820