Letter to the editor: In defense of caution

mammothgeothermal.jpgLetter to the editor:

How I love free press but what we have here is a failure to communicate and understand. I have called Mammoth Lakes Home for just shy of 38 years, I am a home owner, business owner, property owner, MCWD Board Member, Coach, Volunteer, Father, Husband and a friend to some.  Or put another way, this is my home and this is the community I live in and care deeply about; the rest of the stuff is just part of the WHY!

I don’t read multiple newspapers each day and I don’t speak multiple languages.  But I do take the time to learn and understand an issue before I open my mouth.

You all know our Neighbor Ormat, located right outside our city limits.  They have a little Geo-Thermal project located at the junction of Hwy. 395 and 203. Ormat is also in the process of proposing to enlarge their project and produce more clean renewable energy by means of mining geo-thermal heat via steam with some added iso-butane; run through turbines that produce energy that is sold to electric companies and then the cooled water is returned to the ground in and around the Plant that is located at 395 & 203.    

Great, simple to the point, clean, long lasting, environmentally friendly and supported by many government agencies.  After all what are a few above ground pipe lines with 360 degree water running  through our forest going to hurt or a few 3 acre well sites built around our town’s main park going to hurt?  The hum of the pumps, the vaporizing steam heating the ground and the heat from the pipes may even melt the snow quicker so we can play on the fields sooner; and as long as it is windy we don’t have to worry about the carbon dioxide and hydrogen

sulfide gas emissions at each well location.   

So I ask myself why all the fuss and I look for the simplest of answers to understand and support this project?  To share with everyone what my questions and concerns are and encourage everyone to ask their own questions so we may all sleep better at night.

Sustainable energy – wonderful but why is Ormat looking to drill and pump in different locations now, have they used up the hot water where they are?  Maybe the sustainable part is not so sustainable. What happens when the heat runs out under the Shady Rest Park area?  Will Ormat propose drilling in the Knolls, they have a test well on the scenic loop already?

No effect on our water – wonderful but why did the surface pond next to 395 disappear after the Geo-thermal plant opened 30 years ago and has never returned?  Why has the MCWD well site located at Sam’s Wood Site shown signs of elevated heat and chemicals that are indicative of Geo-Thermal sources? Why is vegetation dying from the Plant and moving westward?

Added tax dollars for the county and town – wonderful but why has Ormat appealed the valuation that is currently on the books in Mono County in order to reduce their tax burden from $1.7m to less than $700k?  This has affected our local schools, town and water district to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What are the real numbers that may be pumped in acre feet of water and how is that monitored?  Ormat will not make those numbers public, that information is proprietary to Ormat and they will not share it with the public.  You see Ormat does not want to risk another competitor coming in and mining all the geo-thermal energy! RIGHTTT.

Why has the USGS recommended that at least one deep monitoring well be installed to monitor our area along with shallow wells?  Why has USGS shown us that the ground around the wells that Ormat wants to develop has a ground temperature in excess of 200 degrees F a mere 4” to 1’ below the surface? Why are we even talking about the USGS? Well, they have been around these parts doing a lot of measuring and viewing of our area since before 1980 when we had a few quakes.

As a matter of fact why is there any argument at all about this? We are talking about a $100m- $150m Project (or so says Ormat) and a Community that has a taxable asset value of close to $4 Billion.  Why in the world would we not assume that Ormat would be willing to do the right thing to put the 8000 residences of town at ease even if it meant spending 5+ million dollars for monitoring? After all that is 3 to 5% of the entire project, how absurd that we add to the project cost to protect the community’s water and allow everyone to sleep at night.  Or could it be that Ormat knows something we don’t and the reality is with such monitoring you would see effects and it would cause the shutdown of the project thereby threatening the entire project?  Keep in mind we are still arguing about monitoring and not the mitigation part which Ormat has not even mentioned.   

One can only wonder why we are where we are, however from my point of view and as a MCWD board member I will not risk this community’s water, livelihood and future to any corporation whether they be near or far in ownership or in their concern for our community.  I intend to stand up to the agencies that seem to be very involved with Ormat and this project, I intend to protect Shady Rest where our kids and adults play and ensure the water of this community.  And while we are on the subject of water I am proud of the results that the MCWD was able to achieve with LADWP without a costly and lengthy legal battle with an uncertain outcome. If anyone would like all the details of that issue all you have to do is call me.  Mr. Hyde, ask and learn about LADWP and our water before you assume anyone played dead.

In closing and in reference to the esteemed intellectual elite of Mammoth that is “on a higher plane” I can only suggest that maybe the Dunning-Kruger effect may be prevalent here or at the least “the anosognosia of everyday life” has gotten the better of Mr. Hyde.

Tom Cage

Dunning and Kruger were awarded the 2000 satirical lg Nobel Prize Psychology for their paper, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”.

12 Responses to Letter to the editor: In defense of caution

  1. A Local September 10, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

    Thank you Tom, for you insights. We should always be aware of big corporations and their greed especially when it comes to our fragile environment. We have so much to loose and so little to gain. Keep asking those questions to this complicated process! We should be suspicious when so little of the information is transparent. Not to say that the processes are the same, but look what has happened to the communities where “Fracking” (? Spelling) has occurred. MCWD should continue to ask the difficult questions and not give up until Ormat has clearly and concisely answered every single concern on the table.

  2. MK September 10, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    Tom ,
    I am so glad to hear that the campaign might be working and bringing ORMAT to the table.
    In that case money well spent.

  3. tom cage September 10, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

    I forgot one thing. the only monitoring plan that Ormat has mentioned would not monitor the deep water pressures. I have not once heard them state they are willing to put in even one deep well to monitor and we really need 4. this is a most complicated geological area and we do not have a big pool of water below us. think of our water in the sense of creeks running 500 to 700 hundred feet below us and the Geo Thermal water at 1600′ below Shady Rest in more of a pool.
    now imagine taking 29000 acre feet out of that pool every year. that is a 2+ square mile area of 7.5′ of water coming out of that pool every year. could that affect the cold water above it? could that affect the pressure below the cold water and draw it down?
    no one knows and this is why we need monitoring and a mitigation plan in place to protect our asset.
    thank you all again for your comments, both pro and con.

  4. tom cage September 10, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

    great comments and I appreciate them. I will try to answer them as well. sorry this may be long
    M & M is very important and this is our main goal, we are not trying to stop the project as we realize that Ormat is well into it. the MCWD has an abundant amount of monitoring in the area and on Mammoth Creek near the Geo Plant this monitoring is up to date, modern and we own it and maintain it and it is public info. we have been monitoring for over 15 years and have all the data to prove it and continue to do so. we have never received any information from Ormat or offer from them to share information so they are a net zero to the MCWD. we the MCWD Board don’t feel the rate payers of Mammoth should pay for the additional monitoring that will be needed for this project to go forward and to know if the project is affecting our water.
    as for suing, we are really challenging the findings that GBAQD stated in the EIR and believe those finding are in accurate in insufficient. as I said if we don’t challenge them then it is assumed that we agree with them. I could go into more detail should anyone want to call me, it gets pretty dry. as for the property tax appeal I am simply pointing out that Ormat is not doing us or the county any favors and they will attempt to reduce there cost where ever possible without regard to the county or our water and they have proven that.
    when you have been to as many meetings as I have been and read as much as I have read on this and asked a multitude of questions I believe I am as informed as anyone could be short of the scientist’s who are paid by Ormat and of course ours paid by the MCWD. so I am taking what both are saying and coming up with my own questions and challenges.
    getting Ormat to the table has been very difficult and only recently have they agreed to meet and discus this . since we have filed the challenge to the EIR and hired a PR firm; amazing they are now setting up meetings with us to try and discuss. before that they had no incentive so they were waiting for us to roll over and play dead. so if a PR firm can bring about change at a rate of 10k per month (with a contract we can cancel at any time and a not to exceed 125k) it is much cheaper than federal attorneys at a rate of 650$ per hour which we have not had to hire yet and we are trying to stay away from that. The MCWD Board is never going to roll over and play dead. the staff at MCWD and this board of long time dedicated locals that have served many years helping to make the water district what it is today. believe me the District Manager and Staff at the District educate this board, keeps us informed and calls us out when we have it wrong. Mammoth can be proud of the people keeping water and waste water flowing during these times of drought and we are lucky to be in the position we are in. I believe I can speak for the entire board and assure the community that we will continue to do the work necessary and as cost effective as possible to bring this to a resolution so Ormat may continue with their project and Mammoth can protect its water.

  5. The Aggressive Progressive September 10, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    Great read, best article I have read in awhile.. Thanks..
    The greater the cost of infrastructure, the greater the impact, that is a fact when the resources being intruded on are being utilized for a profit…. YES! Monitoring and Mitigation plans are very important, have we not learned that yet? I mean come on.. YES there will be impacts to the water supply.. just look at the impacts the drought and the way we currently use water is having on our water supply..

    If the monitoring plan is weak, expect a lot of mitigation in the future..

    When companies or industries are searching for economic gain, the environmental cost is always 2nd behind the projects implementation costs.

  6. MK September 10, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    Words of Wisdom

    Its easier to catch flies with honey than Vinegar!

    Keep on bashing them(ORMAT) as some have done and see how far you get.
    Each side stand back and look at things from the other side.
    ORMAT thinks that MCWD should update it’s own monitoring. What about this. Is there a slim possibility that MCWD is trying to ride on the coattails of ORMAT? What if?

    If you wind up spending 1 million or two on legal costs what would it have cost MCWD to upgrade it’s own monitors. ( I know this is not going to cover mitigation. That will have to be negotiated )

    100k for a public and potential smear campaign outrageous

  7. h September 10, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    All I have heard is that it is the MCWD that has refused to compromise and/or work together with ORMAT on an agreeable mitigation plan – not the other way around. Other public agencies that are being sued by the MCWD (GBAPCD and BLM) regarding this issue have good reputations as being fair and balanced – its difficult to believe they would let something happen to our water supply by taking sides in this issue. Both parties need to know that “compromise” does not mean “we are willing to compromise, but only on our terms” …. Putting the MCWD ratepayer monies that are spent on PR aside, Its truly hard to imagine that the parties cannot work together to resolve all the concerns. Regarding the ORMAT property tax appeal you reference – it is my understanding that they are separate issues – an – “apples to oranges” comparison with respect to ORMAT’s proposed project versus the existing plant on which that appeal is based on… your reaching on that analogy. Finally, and most importantly, many in our community believe Mr. Cage’s “Dunning and Kruger” quote also apply to himself and the rest of the MCWD Board.

  8. MJA September 10, 2014 at 7:09 am #

    Hey Tom, Is not Ormat stuck between a rock and a hard place? Hasn’t Ormat already spent millions on USFS land leases? And with a price tag of 150 million to complete the project how can MCWD expect Ormat to agree to monitor their operation for negative impact giving MCWD the control to shut their entire investment down? Although I fully agree that the risk to Mammoth’s water far and away out-weights the gain of their renewable clean energy(?), can they, can Ormat turn back now? If you were Ormat, would you throw in the towel? Thanks,


  9. enoughalready September 10, 2014 at 7:03 am #

    Thanks Tom for waving the flag and shining the light on this issue. Lets hope the town does not sleep thru this one. Geothermal energy is not sustainable. When the water table dries up its over. Wind and solar energy is sustainable. The damage that has occurred around the existing geothermal plant is a major blight to the area. Lets keep up the fight and keep the expansion away from town.

  10. Eastside Bum September 9, 2014 at 10:15 pm #

    It is better to be safe, than sorry.The question needs to be answered accurately, will the Ormat project adversely affect the underground water supply? If there was any doubt, then utmost caution must be used.
    I agree with the MCWD, it is protecting the water supply of 8000 residents, the livelihood of Mammoth Lakes, and the tourist economy of 2 entire counties. Why would anyone think otherwise?

  11. tom cage September 9, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

    MK, perfect comments and our goals are to come to an agreeable monitoring and mitigation plan. we have been trying to get Ormat to the table for months and in an effort to save money on legal we are hoping that there will be some movement on their part if there is a public out cry to the issue and of course to explain to the public what is going on with a very complicated issue.
    our goal is protecting the water of the community by means of monitoring and mitigation if we are correct
    as for the legal position we had to file to protect our standing in the process of the decisions that were being made. had we not challenged the findings of GBAQD then Ormat would have been able to proceed.
    we were dammed if we did and dammed if we didn’t. not a fair spot to be put in but once Ormat covered Great Basin from any legal costs and exposure to their decisions they had nothing to lose.
    while we wait for the courts to render a decision we will attempt to inform people and work with Ormat.
    thank you for commenting.

  12. MK September 9, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    I understand your and other MCWD concerns. It is our water and our livelihood.
    Why all the press campaigns.
    Cannot someone negotiate a plan that is acceptable to all.
    I think someone is being too stubborn.
    This legal mumbo jumbo is going to cost more than the outcome.
    It seems to me that someone is playing with fire. and will get burned , I just hope it won’t be our town again.

    One thing I know is it costs a lot of money to be right.
    Is there some place in the middle that we all can be right and still protect our water.

    LA is going to be after all the water they can get if this drought continues.
    We need to preserve what is ours!
    Settle early it is cheaper.


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