Lack of Guarantees Puts LEAPS Opposition Group on High Alert

A group of Lake Elsinore residents are fighting against the approval of the Lake Elsinore Advanced Pump Storage project – or LEAPS – Nevada Hydro’s flagship project designed to respond to the growing need for reliable, renewable electricity.

The project, which was designed to help meet California’s emissions reductions programs signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown, has met with some strong resistance from residents of Lake Elsinore and the surrounding communities, as well as some government officials.

Assemblywoman for California’s 67th Assembly District Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, sent a letter last year, speaking out against the project to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“This project gives me and many of my constituents great concerns over the potential impacts to our community and little due diligence has been taken to mitigate those concerns,” she said in the letter.

Melendez cited the reason for her concerns as stemming from the changes to the city since the initial filings for the project began more than 10 years ago.

“Western Riverside County is one of the fastest growing regions in all of California, and since the inception of this project a decade ago, the landscape has change significantly,” she said.

Melendez pointed out that since the project’s initial inception, the population of the area has nearly doubled with a number of new commercial and residential developments in Temescal Valley and Lake Elsinore.

“Not to mention shifts in land rights the past 10 years,” she said. “When considering these significant changes to the area, it would be irresponsible to use any documentation accessing the potential impact of this project on the region from the original application.”

Melendez said should the application move forward that she believes Nevada Hydro should conduct a “full, new environmental study, scoping meetings” and cooperate with local stakeholders throughout the application process.

According to LEAPS project Communications Advisor John Sparks, new environmental and community impact studies are underway to update and complete Nevada Hydro’s application. When FERC accepts the application, it will issue a Ready for Environmental Analysis Notice, which starts a new level of review and engagement. Later in the process, FERC will hold public scoping meetings to solicit community input.

The STOP LEAPS group, consisting of a number of people who live in and around Lakeland Village, have many concerns regarding the energy generation and storage project, including a lack of guarantees for what the project will bring to the community and construction issues regarding the to-be-built Decker Canyon Reservoir.

Joe Folmar who is one of the more vocal members of the group said that his first concern was a lack of guarantees regarding the project which Nevada Hydro said was designed to help stabilize electric infrastructure and maximize the use of all forms of renewable energy.

“Nevada Hydro is currently offering no guarantees with anything on this project,” Folmar said. “They are using words like ‘should,’ or ‘maybe’ or ‘could’ or ‘if reasonable’ or ‘if available.’ Nothing is guaranteed, and I feel like with how much they are spending on this project they would have a little bit more of a guarantee for the concerned public.”

Sparks said that he understands this particular concern of residents but until the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission accepts the application and issues the “Ready for Environmental Analysis” notice, that much of the application is conceptual.

“Until we are further along in the FERC licensing process and finish our consultation with local agencies we have no certainty upon which to base guarantees,” Sparks said. “As a result, we make commitments that FERC and local and state authorities oversee. They become part of the license if a license is granted.”

Sparks said that Nevada Hydro is currently identifying issues and requests from impacted communities.

“If there is an approved project, we will deliver,” Sparks said. “For example, if we have FERC approval, we will import 15,000 acre feet of water as part of our agreement with the EVMWD, unless the lake is too high to accept all that water. If we have a project, we will work with the Water District to put the high-quality, imported water in the lake. That’s in writing with the EVMWD and with the FERC.”

Nevada Hydro settled a lawsuit with the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District in 2018, which stated EVMWD, who recently purchased water for Canyon Lake in 2018, will purchase the water using money provided by Nevada Hydro, to help raise the levels at Lake Elsinore and fill the proposed Decker Canyon Reservoir.

Another concern brought up by the STOP LEAPS group was the need to move dirt during the excavation for the Decker Canyon Reservoir, which would be built should the project win approval.

Folmar said that the project would require construction of infrastructure and that the structure of Decker Canyon is “not geographically suitable” to what Nevada Hydro is proposing.

“They are going to have to move mountains to put dams in, they are going to have to move a bunch of dirt and they aren’t talking about how much dirt they are going to have to take out of Decker Canyon and where they are going to put it to get the reservoir levels they are going to need up there,” Folmar said.

Folmar also discussed the “through earth construction” for the required tunneling to the turbine facility as well as the potential impacts to traffic.

“We recognize that construction of a major project will be inconvenient for some residents,” Sparks said. “However, we will be tunneling from the top of the mountain and using the excavated rock and earth to build the proposed Decker Canyon reservoir. It will not be trucked.”

Sparks said that while most of the excavated materials will be used in construction of the reservoir, there will be some material from the power plant excavation and digging the inlet-outlet facility that will have to be trucked. Approximately 8.8 million cubic yards of earth and rock will be excavated from the tunneling, and only 2.1 million cubic yards will be relocated, if it can’t be incorporated into the back of the dam

“We will work with the community, the city, and the county to determine the least impactful schedule. Local authorities will hold us to that schedule,” he said. “The majority of the excavated material will be used to build the Decker Canyon reservoir. A very small proportion will be trucked to a landfill.”

Sparks said that a traffic study is being completed as part of the FERC application process but that the most affected road in construction would be Grand Avenue.

“We will develop a schedule for that with public and local government input when designs are finalized and we have a better estimate of quantity,” Sparks said. “We will minimize the use of the Ortega Highway by using the majority of excavated material to build the Decker Canyon Reservoir which is where we will tunnel from.”

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