Two environmental groups and one individual have sued several U.S. Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials challenging federal approvals of the 112-turbine, 315-megawatt Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility in Imperial County, which is on 10,151 acres of BLM-managed land in the Southern California desert. The Protect Our Communities Found. v. Salazar, No. 12-2211 (S.D. Cal. filed 9/11/12) The suit alleges that government officials failed to adequately assess the facility’s impact on natural and cultural resources, migratory birds and other wildlife, contrary to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA).

The complaint alleges that the project “will fundamentally alter an enormous area of the [California Desert Conservation Area] and destroy many of the site’s natural and cultural resources, including numerous special status species and a cultural landscape that is currently used for cultural and religious purposes by a variety of local Native American Tribes and contains nearly 300 archeological sites.” The complaint also alleges that the facility “threatens the health and welfare of local inhabitants and will significantly diminish desert vistas from many key viewing areas, including Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.”

Plaintiffs assert that the government improperly amended a management plan for the desert area that the plant would affect and prepared an environmental impact statement (EIS) that is inadequate in a variety of respects. Among the alleged shortcomings are failure to adequately consider the potential for stray voltage and dirty electricity from the turbines and visual impacts due to shadow flicker from the operating turbines and from installation of necessary buildings. The complaint asserts potential impacts on golden eagles and other avian species, as well as on bighorn sheep. It also asserts that the EIS failed to consider disproportionate impacts on local Native Americans, contrary to federal environmental justice policy.

Plaintiffs seek rescission of project approvals and temporary and permanent restraining orders to prevent BLM from initiating or permitting any activities in furtherance of the facility “that could result in any change or alteration of the physical environment” until the government meets NEPA, FLPMA and MBTA requirements.