Jacumba Residents Fear 650-Acre Solar Project Will Ruin Their Rural Community
Speaker 1: 00:00 A tiny town in extreme South Houston, San Diego County could be the home of the region's next big solar energy project, but many of the residents are fighting against it. A Cumba hot Springs located near Boulevard is home to just about 500 residents. If the planned project moves forward, it will also be home to 650 acres of solar panels at the edge of town. The panels would provide clean energy to more than 20,000 homes, but critics say it will also ruin the culture and heritage of the town. Joining me is I new source investigative reporter come me Von canal and Comey. Welcome. Thank you. Tell us more about this proposed solar panel project. Where is it located and who would build it? Speaker 2: 00:48 Right. So the developer is a German company. That's actually already built one solar project nearby. Um, and it would be located on this big field, right East of the town, um, along old highway 80. So it's this 13 acre 13, it's this 1300 acre field. That's between interstate eight and, uh, the border with Mexico. Um, and the field has been a farm most recently. And, um, it's also been abandoned and empty for a little while, but at some point it was considered for housing. Now, Speaker 1: 01:23 Has there been resistance building in her Kumba to this project? Speaker 2: 01:28 Yeah. So resistance has been building since it was first proposed in, um, 2017. Um, most recently people have sent in letters to the County. There's been at least a hundred letters from residents opposing this project. Um, they've signed petitions. They've tried to hold meetings, um, against the project with the solar developers. Um, the main, the main concern is that it would change the aesthetic of the place. It would add noise and glare and sort of an industrial feel to this value that residents like for its rule, natural feel. And then tourists go to, to escape the city and get more in touch with nature Speaker 1: 02:08 And what cultural sites in and around her combo, hot Springs to critics say are threatened. Speaker 2: 02:14 Hookah Mahad Springs has been a destination for tourism since the 1920s. So there's a sort of like a historic hot Springs hotel and resort that's right in the middle of town. Um, there's these old dairy buildings on the proposed site that would be torn down for the solar panels, um, and sort of larger than that. The whole Valley has been occupied by native Americans for a long time. Um, and so there's, uh, archaeological resources kind of buried there. Um, there's, uh, sacred sites surrounding the field and four of the local tribal governments are consulting with the County on the project because of this. Speaker 1: 02:56 Now residents, I believe are also worried about ecological drawbacks from the project, including fire danger and risks to local wildlife. Can you tell us a bit about that? Speaker 2: 03:08 So how come that is in a high fire risk area? So, uh, this project would have to come with a fire services agreement with the County fire services to either add fire personnel to the area or at a fire station. Um, because with all the electrical equipment, um, it's even higher fire risk. Um, and on the, uh, wildlife front, there is a biological monitoring required with this project because it could disrupt the habitat for birds, including the burrowing, owl, and other, uh, wildlife. There's lots of birds in the area. Speaker 1: 03:42 On the other hand, though, won't the project bring jobs to the region. Speaker 2: 03:46 So it is expected to bring around 500 construction jobs to the area for around 13 months. They would most likely be from out of town from San Diego or Imperial Valley. And then after 13 months, the project would be unmanned. So there'd be no long-term local jobs. Speaker 1: 04:06 Okay, then, so the environmental impact report on this project has been made public, but some residents say public comment on the project has been hampered by the pandemic. Tell us about that. Speaker 2: 04:18 Absolutely. Usually as part of this public review process, there are meetings with the community. Um, the meeting was held online and by phone only. And so some residents are concerned that that didn't lead to access to everyone in the community. Um, and the local library has been closed on and off throughout the last few months because of the pandemic. And that's where residents access public records and internet and the computer. Um, so there, there is a concern that, uh, not everyone has been well-informed about this project and not everyone has been able to participate to their full capacity where Speaker 1: 04:56 Solar panel project, in terms of County approval, what has to happen to get the project going? Speaker 2: 05:03 The County has wrapped up the public review process, um, the draft environmental impact report. So what's left is, uh, it has to go before the County planning commission sometime in the summer for a recommendation of some kind. And then it would have to be voted on by the board of supervisors sometime in the fall is what is expected. Speaker 1: 05:23 And what do residents who are opposed to the project? What do they say their next move will be? Speaker 2: 05:28 One of their major moves actually happened last week. The local planning board voted to ask the County for a much smaller project that would be set kind of further away from homes and businesses. Um, one of the major property owners in town has hired a lawyer with expertise in environmental land, use law to help them navigate the process. So we'll, we'll see what happens. They're continuing to, um, be as involved in the public review as possible and, and bring attention to this project. Speaker 1: 06:01 And I've been speaking with our new source, investigative reporter come me Vaughn canal and Comey. Thank you. Speaker 2: 06:07 Thank you.