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Tribes file suit to stop Mojave Desert solar energy project

Site located on ancestral lands

Louis Sahagun Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – A federally recognized Indian tribe has filed a lawsuit to block construction of a solar energy facility that would replace 4,000 acres of ancestral homelands in the Mojave Desert with reflective photovoltaic panels.

The Colorado River Indian Tribes’ lawsuit claims the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s environmental impact statement for the project did not adequately take into account its effects on the area’s ecosystem, cultural resources, groundwater and the Colorado River.

The tribal group with sovereignty over a 245,000-acre reservation near the work site also claimed that the BLM violated federal law by authorizing construction of Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources’ Blythe II project without first holding “government-to-government” consultations.

The lawsuit aims to delay or permanently enjoin the BLM from “permitting ground disturbing activities” within the project site and from issuing any further notice to proceed until the agency complies with the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act.

In an interview, David Harper, a spokesman for the tribal group’s Mojave Elders Committee, said, “We are not against solar power. We are against our ancestors’ remains, funerary objects and cultural artifacts being dug up and carted away from their resting places.”

BLM spokesman Steven Razo declined comment.

Blythe II is expected to generate 485 megawatts of solar electricity on the 4,000 acres of public land. Construction is expected to begin early next year.

The project is on a portion of land originally approved for construction of Palo Verde Solar I’s proposed 1,000-megawatt solar energy-generating plant, Blythe I. NextEra purchased the unbuilt assets of Blythe I when Palo Verde’s parent companies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012, the lawsuit said.

The BLM has approved, or is actively considering, 10 gigantic power plants within 50 miles of the CRIT reservation, covering 35,000 acres of ancestral homelands in rural areas that had gone undisturbed for thousands of years.

Disturbing the area’s ancient trails and relics – grindstones, petroglyphs, hearth sites – “is taboo,” the lawsuit says, and some members of the tribal group “experience significant spiritual harm when such resources are dug up, relocated or damaged.”

The CRIT reservation was created in 1865 and stretches along the Colorado River in Arizona and California. It is home to 4,000 members of four distinct tribes: the Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajo.

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