The Panoche Valley is designated Core Habitat for the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, San Joaquin kit fox, and giant kangaroo rat, all federally and state endangered species. Additionally, the valley is designated an Audubon Important Bird Area of Global Significance due to rare bird species, including the Mountain Plover, a candidate for the federal endangered species list.
The petition itemizes numerous inadequacies in the environmental analysis that is provided to inform decision-makers.
“The environmental analysis has been reviewed by the California Department of Fish and Game and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Both of these agencies, as well as numerous environmental organizations, have found the analysis, as well as the mitigations that are proposed to compensate for harmful impacts on endangered species, to be grossly inadequate. In other words, the project might have irreversible impacts on the survival of several species, and it has the potential to significantly contribute to the risk of extinction of these species” said Shani Kleinhaus, Santa Clara Valley Audubon’s environmental advocate.
The petition goes on to list inadequacies in the analysis of impacts on air quality, prime farmland, soil erosion, cultural resources, hazardous materials and emissions, hydrology and water quality, wildfires, and noise. “At its most basic level, the environmental document is supposed to inform the public and decision-making body of the full extent of impacts the project will have on the environment and on public safety and health. This document was so quickly put together it never addressed these basic issues or do so only in a cursory manner,” said Kleinhaus. “In no way does this environmental impact report provide the public and public officials with the information necessary to make an informed decision as to the losses, the costs and the risks associated with this project.”
The draft environmental impact report looked at four different project alternatives, and even with the smallest sized alternative, government agencies found irreversible, unmitigable impacts on wildlife and habitat. “One of many issues with this analysis was the narrow range of alternatives that were studied,” said Kleinhaus. “We expected alternatives to review brownfield sites, distributed solar as an alternative, and other locations in San Benito Co. None of these were analyzed. In addition, there is a feasible alternative that is less environmentally damaging, which involves developing the solar project on the Westlands property in Fresno County.”
“Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society supports sustainable energy programs that foster the development of renewable energy resources while focusing on energy conservation. We encourage the promotion of solar energy projects, policies and programs that focus on solar energy production in existing and planned communities, but do not impact landscapes that have agricultural or habitat value,” said Kleinhaus. “We support projects that do not endanger species, or the survival and health of the residents of rural communities.”