April 19, 2002
SDG&E power-line plan resisted
Congress cool to proposal opposed by Indian band
By JERRY KAMMER
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – An executive from San Diego Gas & Electric Co.
got a congressional cold shoulder Wednesday as he sought
support in the House Resources Committee for a proposed
power line across Pechanga Indian land in Riverside County.
"You really have a bipartisan problem with this committee," Rep.
Dale Kildee, D-Mich., told James Avery, senior vice president at
That pointed comment reflected the general tone of a hearing
where Pechanga leader Mark Macarro received warm support
for his efforts to shield the land.
"These lands are where the Pechanga people came into being,"
said Macarro. He is chairman of the 1,400-member Pechanga
Band of Luiseno Mission Indians, whose reservation comprises
4,396 acres near Temecula.
Macarro testified in favor of a bill that would put a hold on
SDG&E efforts to condemn land for a power-line corridor
through the 724-acre Great Oak Ranch, which the Pechangas
bought last year.
The company is seeking a route for a 500,000-volt line that
would connect the Valley Substation in Riverside County to a
new substation 30 miles south in the San Diego County
community of Rainbow.
Avery said the line would be "a critical link in the Southern
California electricity system." He said the San Diego area alone is adding 20,000 homes annually to the grid.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, whose district includes the
reservation, sponsored the bill. Rep. Mary Bono, R-Palm
Springs, co-sponsored the measure, which also is supported by
California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer
and a variety of civic and tourism groups in Riverside County.
The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. support SDG&E.
The bill would protect the Great Oak Ranch, which is contiguous
to the Pechanga reservation, while the Interior Department
completes review of the Pechanga request that the land be made part of the reservation.
The Interior Department said last month it intends to approve
the request by the Pechangas, whose reservation has been
energized by revenues from a casino that is undergoing a $100
million expansion. But Avery said SDG&E would appeal such an
order, arguing that it failed to consider public interests.
Avery characterized Issa's bill as an unwarranted federal
intrusion into an area of state jurisdiction.
"If enacted into law, this legislation would pre-empt the laws of
the state of California by overriding the state's authority to
condemn and compensate private landowners for land that is
needed for a public purpose," he told the committee.
Macarro invoked the tribe's religious and cultural heritage, as
well as the uniqueness of the ranch's massive namesake, which is believed to be the oldest oak tree in the United States.
"The age of the oak tree is estimated at more than 1,500 years,
and the tree has been the site of tribal sacred ceremonies for
generations," Macarro said.
Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Riverside, suggested that SDG&E consider an alternative route for the power line, through the Cleveland
National Forest, which lies on the reservation's border.
"I think many of us would help San Diego Gas & Electric work on
that," Calvert said.
Avery replied that such an effort would encounter "a lot of
opposition from a lot of different groups."
In an interview after the hearing, he said a route through the
national forest would cross wilderness areas, which enjoy
especially strong protection under federal law.
Avery also said SDG&E would support Pechanga efforts to make
the ranch part of the reservation, as long as a corridor would be
set aside for the power line.
Acknowledging that he faced an uphill fight in Congress, Avery
said, "Any time you build any kind of facility, there are going to
be people who don't want it in their back yard."