The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) Plan of 1980 (as amended in 1999) Amendment, which evaluates the potential environmental impacts associated with identifying sites on certain BLM-managed surface lands as suitable for authorization of rights-of-way (ROW) for testing and developing solar and wind energy facilities. It also evaluates the potential environmental impacts associated with identifying certain sites in the West Chocolate Mountains Renewable Energy Evaluation Area (the West Chocolate REEA, or the REEA) located near Niland, California for leasing of the federal mineral estate (not including acquired lands) for geothermal energy testing and development. This EIS and CDCA Plan Amendment also considered approval of a noncompetitive geothermal lease application filed with the BLM prior to 2005.
The West Chocolate REEA, located in north central Imperial County, California is within the boundaries of the CDCA. The REEA is south of Riverside County, north of the City of Calipatria, east of the Salton Sea, and west of the Chocolate Mountains. The West Chocolate REEA (BLM and non-BLM land) consists of approximately 64,058 acres, of which 38,624 acres are privately owned, 3,806 acres are managed by the California State Lands Commission (CSLC), 1,262 acres are split estate lands (with private surface/federal minerals), and 2,863 acres are lands acquired from the Catellus Corporation by the Wildlands Conservancy using Lands and Water Conservation Fund money and donated to the BLM. The acquired lands are not available for geothermal leasing, but can be considered for wind and solar energy development. In addition, 1,480 acres of land (federal surface/federal minerals) have been withdrawn from the operation of the public land laws for use by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and are not open for surface occupancy or geothermal leasing. BLM land within the West Chocolate REEA that is considered for renewable energy projects consists of 18,765 acres of federal managed surface lands and 20,027 acres of land with federal mineral estate that are managed by the BLM El Centro Field Office. The 1,282 acres of surface land in the split estate are included in the 38,624 acres of private land with federal minerals discussed above.
Decisions made as a result of this planning effort will not authorize any specific energy development at this time, including the lease application, which might result in environmental impacts; however, certain assumptions have been developed to estimate possible environmental impacts associated with future authorization of renewable energy projects that might occur consistent with the selection of one of the planning alternatives evaluated here. Additional project-specific environmental analyses would need to be conducted before on-the-ground development activities could occur; however, further amendments of the CDCA plan would not be required.
While the current CDCA Plan allows geothermal leasing within the West Chocolate REEA, under the terms of that Plan, it must be amended to identify lands suitable for solar or wind energy development within the CDCA. Thus, this document addresses the suitability of the REEA for these purposes and identify appropriate stipulations and mitigation measures that will be applied to any future solar ROW authorizations.
The public comment period following the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement ended on September 29, 2011. Substantive comments were addressed and incorporated into the Final Environmental Impact Statement which has published and is now available for viewing.
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For more information contact Sandra McGinnis, BLM Project Manager at (916) 978-4427 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org