The Colorado River Indian Tribes has filed a lawsuit against Riverside County and its board of supervisors for approving the 3,660-acre Blythe Mesa Solar Project allegedly without fully considering the impact of the development on tribal resources.
CRIT filed the suit on June 12th in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Riverside. Project developer Renewable Resources Group is also named in the suit, which requests that the court direct Riverside County to rescind its approval and halt construction of the project until it comes into compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and all applicable laws.
“The project is located in the ancestral homelands of the Colorado River Indian Tribes’ Mohave and Chemehuevi members, in a region rich in cultural resources that have been used since time immemorial,” said Councilwoman Amanda Barrera. “These resources have remained intact for millennia, but now are threatened by ever increasing pressure to develop the Mohave Desert with utility scale solar facilities.”
The Colorado River Indian Tribes assert that the county violated CEQA by failing to adequately disclose, analyze or mitigate impacts in a number of areas, including cultural and spiritual resources like ancient trails, landscapes, and archaeological patrimony.
Last month the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the 485-megawatt plant near Blythe. Clean energy advocates and environmental groups have supported the proposal, which is to be built on lands the tribes say are of cultural importance to their people. The project would generate more than $500,000 in annual revenue for Riverside County through the county’s $150-per-acre solar fee.
Project planners say they tried to minimize environmental impact by placing the plans for the project on previously disturbed lands as much as possible, including near power lines. But several large-scale solar projects like Blythe Mesa have stalled or been abandoned because of concerns raised by conservationists.
In 2014 CRIT says it sent extensive comments to Riverside County during the public comment period, identifying the issues now listed in the lawsuit. The county approved the development, which is located eight miles from CRIT’s reservation, without adequately responding to CRIT’s concerns, according to a statement by the Tribes.
“Despite maps that verify the presence of prehistoric trails in the vicinity of the project, the county incorrectly found that there were no trails present,” Councilwoman Barrera said. “We object that the county solely relied upon archeological field studies to determine the existence of buried cultural resources. We urged them to consult with tribal elders regarding the location of buried cultural resources and perform geomorphic studies to determine the likelihood that these are on the project site, but Riverside County failed to address these concerns.”
Although the tribes today are based in Parker, AZ on the CRIT reservation, the ancestral homelands of the Mohave people are a much wider expanse of the Mojave Desert, with the lands’ use evident in archeology and passed down in oral tradition over centuries. The tribes are commemorating 150 years of the CRIT reservation this year, which was established by Congress in 1865 on the banks of the lower Colorado River.