Park service says Soda Mountain solar project would harm Mojave preserve

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – The National Park Service says a proposed 6.5-square-mile solar development about a half-mile from the Mojave National Preserve would harm wildlife and should be built elsewhere.

Preserve Superintendent Stephanie Dubois submitted a letter critical of the plan to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the public land where the Soda Mountain solar project is planned, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported Wednesday ( ).

The eight-page letter accuses the BLM of failing to adequately examine the project’s potential to have a negative impact on groundwater and threatened and endangered species. The project would be detrimental to the desert tortoise, bighorn sheep and protected birds in the area and could reduce water supplies that support one of the few populations of an endangered fish, she wrote.

“We urge the BLM to reconsider the potential for this project to be sited on other BLM lands, private lands, or other degraded lands where renewable energy projects would present fewer adverse impacts to natural and cultural resources,” Dubois wrote in her March 3 letter.

A subsidiary of Bechtel wants to put solar panels on both sides of Interstate 15 just outside the northwest corner of the preserve in the San Bernardino Mountains.

BLM spokeswoman Martha Maciel told the newspaper that Dubois’ letter is just one of many written comments the agency received as part of the process to evaluate Bechtel’s requests for a right-of-way permit the company needs in order to build on public land.

“We will consider all the comments and adjust our analysis where appropriate,” Maciel said.

Dubois could not be reached for comment.

David Lamfrom, California desert program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, said it is unusual for a federal agency under the Department of Interior to be so critical of a sister agency. He expects Dubois’ letter to bolster the arguments of environmental groups that oppose the project.


Information from: The Press-Enterprise,