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Taft Midway Driller - Taft, CA
  • Residents voice concerns about Fremont Valley project

  • Groundwater, 'lack of information' expressed as problems
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  • On Wednesday, Ridgecrest's city council heard a presentation from Lorelei Oviatt, Kern County's planning chief on the Fremont Valley Preservation Project and many of its underlying layers.
    The project, a 4,806-acre combined solar, water banking and water extraction plan, is being financed by AquaHelio, LLC, a private company on private property.
    Oviatt explained that many provisions are in place to govern how the water is extracted, as well as an optional memorandum of understanding proposed by AquaHelio to provide 10 percent of water extracted to Kern County.
    However, while the council absorbed the information, several residents in a full house sounded off their concerns for the project.
    Phil Salvatore, a Ridgecrest resident, disputed the claims made in the Fremont Valley project draft environmental impact report that the basin in that area did not have a 7 million acre-foot capacity.
    "AquaHelio proposes to store 220,000 acre feet per year in that aquifer," Salvatore said. "To give you an idea of the amount, that's the amount of Pyramid Reservoir (in LA County)."
    He said with that amount of banking, AquaHelio would have to sell native groundwater "if they're going to have room to store someone else's water."
    He challenged the assertion that after water banking is complete and used, that 10 percent would remain in the basin, unrecoverable.
    "No water agency is going to walk away from 10 percent of their water," Salvatore said.
    Donna Thomas, an Inyokern resident and president of the East Kern County Resource Conservation District, called the draft EIR limited. She challenged why a subsidence report had been submitted at a recent county planning commission hearing when it should have been included in the EIR beforehand.
    Thomas said that a letter of comment submitted by the EKCRD referenced subsidence problems in the Fremont Valley, but garnered no response when the county planning department released its response to comments made on the EIR.
    "Those questions were referenced 138 times and yet the people who reviewed that (response) document did not respond to them," Thomas said.
    She said information not initially included prompted the need to recirculate the EIR "so the public has a chance to review all the added documents."
    Sophia Merk of Ridgecrest, another EKCRD boardmember, said that "a lot of the community's concerns have not been met" over the project.
    "The biggest concern with the PR money making attempt is that the people in Cantil and Fremont Valley are being totally ignored," Merk said. "The applicants of this project have spoken with this council but guess what, they have not met with the Cantil (or) Fremont Valley residents."
    Merk used the rationale of property values, especially those belonging to lifelong residents of the Fremont Valley. She argued that dust problems that might arise from the construction efforts will eventually impact the area, and that mitigation efforts are not adequate enough.
    Page 2 of 2 - Oviatt, in her presentation to the council, cited that Kern County planning dust mitigation standards require an applicant to develop or clear the land in sections instead of scrubbing the entire area at once.
    A personal plea came from a Cantil resident that came to make her voice heard.
    Trisan Deu Pree called the project's implementation "bullish."
    "It has been a brutal process for us," Deu Pree said. "Some of us have been out there or our families for over a hundred years."
    Deu Pree emotionally leveled charges against the project that it was claiming to be something it isn't.
    "It's simply a water grab piggybacking as a solar project," she said. "Everybody wants our water."
    Deu Pree asked what if it was the Indian Wells Valley aquifer being targeted.
    "No one is asking or talking, or said anything to any of us," Deu Pree said of the communication process. "When the county talks about this great plan, forgive me if I don't trust it."
    Following the presentation, the council moved forward on approving a letter of concern about the Fremont Valley Project, especially addressing concerns about a lack of some information.
    Councilman Steven Morgan said that information provided by Oviatt during the presentation helped clarify things, but he stressed communication from both the county and representatives from AquaHelio.
    "An email will be sent from this councilman to them," Morgan said. "They need to sit down with residents of Cantil and the Fremont Valley."
    He said he and the rest of the council understood the global impacts of any project involving water.
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