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Tribe Seeks Injunction To Stop Desert Wind Energy Project

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Tribe Opposes Wind Project

The Quechan Indian Tribe filed a complaint in federal court on Monday asking a judge to halt the Ocotillo Express Wind Project slated for western Imperial County in California.

The tribe says the U.S. Department of the Interior violated various federal laws when it recently approved construction of the wind turbines. The 315-megawatt project is planned for nearly 20 square miles of public land, some of which the Quechan and several other tribes claim is sacred.

“How the federal government feels comfortable with putting a project in and around this completely culturally rich area is beyond me,” said John Bathke, Historic Preservation Officer for the Quechan Indian Nation. Bathke said the Obama administration has ignored tribal concerns that the project could have severe impacts on hundreds of archeological sites in the area.

The project is being developed by San Francisco-based Pattern Energy.

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Last week, the tribes hired a team of forensic dog handlers to sniff for ancient cremation sites there. They found seven that could have human remains, said Bob Sheid, a spokesman for the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, which also opposes the project. That brings the total likely number of ancient burial sites in the area to more than a dozen, Sheid said.

The spokesman said there were "lots of gaps" in the archeological surveying that was done leading up to the approval of the project. The tribes are calling for the Imperial County coroner to investigate and confirm the cremation sites found last week, Sheid said, in order to seek protection for them under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Environmentalists also warn the turbines will compromise critical big horn sheep habitat. The Ocotillo project area butts up against Anza-Borrego Desert State Park on the eastern border of San Diego County.

Ocotillo Express is one of 19 renewable energy projects designated last year by the federal Bureau of Land Management for “fast track” approval. The projects were chosen as being the "most promising," BLM Director Bob Abbey said in a March 2011 news release. Abbey said the projects were "smart from the start and will help diversify this country’s energy portfolio in an environmentally responsible manner."

The Ocotillo Express Wind Project is expected to produce enough energy to power about 94,500 homes.

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