By Deb Murphy
The Mono County Board of Supervisors didn’t mince their words or hide their feelings about the massive hydroelectric project proposed for Wheeler Crest, Lower Rock Creek and Owens River gorges at Tuesday’s meeting.
“What are these people thinking? Are they insane?” was Supervisor Bob Gardner’s reaction. Supervisors Stacy Corless and Jennifer Halferty described the project as “horrible and ridiculous,” and “appalling and far-fetched,” respectively. Comments from the public were equally adamant: Premium Energy Holding, LLC’s application to the Federal Energy Regulation Commission for a permit to study the feasibility of the reservoirs and penstocks had no redeeming qualities.
Supervisor Fred Stump whose district would be the site of the atrocity noted public safety issues with dams above Paradise and Swall Meadows in an area with seismic issues.
“The FERC imposed restrictions on dams in June Lake because of seismic problems,” Gardner added. “They’re wasting their time. They (Premium) should just go away.”
Stump started the board discussion with a list of serious flaws in the project, a closed loop system with water pumped from three reservoirs in one or both of the gorges to reservoirs on Wheeler Crest then sent back down to the lower reservoirs to generate electricity. Those flaws included the fact the project would cross private property and interrupt wildlife corridors.
Paradise resident Michael Sullivan told the Board there was “overwhelming opposition” to the project following a community meeting. “We’ve sent a letter to the FERC to stop this in its tracks,” he said. That letter had 124 signatures.
Evan Russell lives at the base of Rock Creek Canyon. “This would destroy the canyon,” he said. “It’s hard to justify. How did we get to this point?”
Jora Fogg with Friends of the Inyo asked the Board to “engage early and often.” That sentiment was echoed by the Supervisors who agreed to respond quickly rather than wait until the application was officially in the system and the first public comment period opened.
Fogg dropped a bomb during her comments. The Wilderness Act states: “The President may…authorize…the establishment and maintenance of reservoirs… needed in the public interest, including the road construction and maintenance essential to development….”
“We have limited authority,” said Corless, “but we have to dance on the edge of our authority to get things done that we believe in.”