As part of the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm Project, ECORP prepared a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Environmental Assessment (EA) for geotechnical investigations for a proposed 550 megawatt, 4,000-acre photovoltaic solar farm on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Palm Springs Field Office located near Desert Center in Riverside County. During the preparation and completion of the EA, ECORP staff provided a variety of Land Use Planning and Cultural Resources Management Services in accordance with NEPA BLM regulations, land use plans, and other guidelines including Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).
Land Use Planning Services Provided for the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm Project
As part of the Land Use Planning Services provided for the project, ECORP prepared a corridor conflict analysis to determine if a proposed solar farm transmission line was consistent with BLM regulations and land use plans. The analysis included all existing authorized developments located in the California Desert Conservation Area utility corridor including
- Transmission lines
- Other developments
An analysis of current authorized and operation widths and the distance needed between various types of facilities was also included along with a discussion about how the corridor would accommodate future projects if the solar farm application were approved. It was prepared in BLM format and submitted to the Palm Springs field office and California Desert District office for approval.
ECORP land use planning staff also prepared a BLM SF 2920-1 form (temporary land use application) for a meteorological station for the Desert Sunlight Solar Project. ECORP included a complete project description including information regarding the equipment, installation activities, operations activities, decommissioning activities, and a map for the meteorological station as part of the SF 2920-1 Form. Based on the information presented, BLM indicated that a NEPA Categorical Exclusion could be completed for the project.
Cultural Resources Management Services Provided for the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm Project
A variety of Cultural Resources Management Services were provided for the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm Project, including:
- A Class I overview of the Project Study Area (PSA)
- A Class III survey of 274 acres of the proposed geotechnical testing areas and access roads
- A Class III survey of approximately 5,300 acres for the solar farm, transmission line, and substation
- Support and data for an NHPA Section 106 Programmatic Agreement
- Native American Consultations Support Services
Records Search and Literature Review for the Class 1 Overview
The Class I overview consisted of a records search and literature review for the entire PSA (17,681 acres total), along with a one-mile buffer around that area. Sources included:
- The Eastern Information Center
- BLM archaeological records and reports
- Local libraries
- The Sacred Lands File of the Native American Heritage Commission
The records search identified previous surveys and known cultural resources within 1 mile of the PSA and assessed the potential of the area to contain cultural resources. A Class I report was prepared that described the methods and results of the study and provided recommendations for survey coverage.
Class III Cultural Resources Surveys
Class III surveys were conducted for the geotechnical testing and the preferred solar farm site, transmission line, and substation location, covering nearly 5,600 acres total. All sites identified were recorded and mapped in detail with California Department of Parks and Recreation site records prepared. Site data was delivered to BLM in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) format following BLM standards.
A technical report was prepared to document the environmental and cultural setting of the region, describe all sites, and provide a preliminary evaluation of National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) eligibility for the sites. Because the project area lies within General Patton’s World War II Desert Training Center (DTC) and the California-Arizona Maneuver Area (C-AMA), historical research on DTC and C-AMA was conducted to guide the evaluation of features related to potential WWII-era military training features found during the survey including fox holes, target berms, and tank tracks.
Native American Tribal Consultation Support
ECORP also provided support and data for a Programmatic Agreement to be signed by the Applicant, BLM, the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), and three Native American tribes. Additionally, we assisted BLM and the Applicant in presenting the project and its potential effects to cultural resources to up to 15 Native American tribes to obtain their input during the NEPA and Section 106 consultation process.