West Chocolate Mountains REEA EIS Released

Final Environmental Impact Statement for the West Chocolate Mountains Renewable Energy Evaluation Area, Imperial County, CA, Available

The Final EIS/Proposed Plan Amendment analyzes the potential environmental impacts of making available approximately 18,765 acres of BLM-managed surface lands in the West Chocolate Mountains REEA for testing and developing solar and wind energy facilities and for leasing approximately 20,027 acres of Federal mineral estate near Niland, California, for geothermal energy testing and development. The Final EIS also analyzes the potential environmental impacts of approving a pending geothermal lease application in the REEA.

The purpose of the proposed action is to facilitate appropriate development of geothermal, solar, and wind energy in the REEA and make land use plan decisions regarding the potential location, development, and management of those resources to balance competing uses and continue to achieve the resource condition goals for all resources in the planning area. The analysis includes consideration of the possible environmental consequences associated with a reasonably foreseeable development scenario, as well as possible conditions upon or restrictions for development that may be established to protect certain resource values.

The Final EIS/Proposed Plan Amendment analyzed six alternatives. The preferred alternative is Alternative 6—Geothermal Development Emphasis with Moderate Solar Development and No Wind Development. Under this alternative, the CDCA Plan would be amended to identify areas in the West Chocolate REEA as suitable for geothermal leasing and development and solar energy development, subject to constraints related to the presence of sensitive resources. Standard stipulations would be required for leasing and development, as well as a special stipulation for groundwater usage that would require preparation of a Water Supply Assessment under State law SB-610. Proposed renewable energy development that would require high water usage would not be authorized. The CDCA Plan would be amended to identify the West Chocolate REEA as unsuitable for wind energy development due to conflicts with the Chocolate Mountains Aerial Gunnery Range fly zone. Under the preferred alternative, overall development also would be managed with lands east of the Coachella Canal subject to a disturbance cap of 10 percent to preserve wildlife habitat, and the west side of the Coachella Canal identified as a Solar Energy Zone (SEZ). No projects would be authorized at this time. The principal issues identified during scoping and public review included Native American concerns; potential land use conflicts including recreation; cumulative impacts considering existing, proposed, and potential geothermal projects in the area; and potential impacts on cultural resources, wildlife, visual resources, and surface and groundwater resources. The Final EIS addresses other issues such as geology, mining, vegetation, threatened or endangered species, air quality, noise, transportation, human health and safety, and social and economic issues, as well as issues raised during the scoping process.

Copies of the West Chocolate Mountains Renewable Energy Evaluation Area Final EIS/Proposed Plan Amendment have been sent to affected Federal, State, local government agencies, tribal governments and other stakeholders. Copies are available for public inspection at the El Centro Field Office at 1661 S. 4th Street, El Centro, CA; California Desert District Office at 22835 Calle San Juan de Los Lagos, Moreno Valley, CA; and the Palm Springs—South Coast Field Office at 1201 Bird Center Drive, Palm Springs, CA. Interested persons may also review the Final EIS/Proposed Plan Amendment at http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/elcentro/nepa/wcm.html.


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