LAKE ELSINORE, CA — The massive hydroelectric project proposed to span across Lake Elsinore, through the Cleveland National Forest, and toward Camp Pendleton will be up for discussion during Tuesday's Riverside County Board of Supervisors meeting.
The board is poised to approve signing off on a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that finds the Lake Elsinore Advanced Pumped Storage Project (“LEAPS project”) could lead to "major public impacts" in Southwest Riverside County and therefore environmental and other concerns must be "analyzed and mitigated in an open and transparent process with ample public review, comment and outreach."
Dam safety issues, wildfire dangers, visual and public safety impacts from transmission lines, traffic and construction impacts, and disturbance of sensitive habitat areas, are among the concerns, according to the draft letter.
"While the LEAPS project purports to have statewide energy benefits, the environmental impacts, potentially detrimental and long lasting, are at the local level and will be borne by the residents of Riverside County," the draft letter reads.
Project applicant Nevada Hydro is seeking a permit to operate LEAPS from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. If built, the project would generate electricity onto the state's electrical grid, but it would require installing 32 miles of 500 kV transmission lines and towers through the Cleveland National Forest, just west of Lake Elsinore, Wildomar, Murrieta and Temecula. The project would also consist of reservoirs with a set of tunnels running between them: the water in Lake Elsinore would serve as a lower reservoir; an upper reservoir would be constructed in the Cleveland National Forest at Decker Canyon (just south of state Route 74). A pump/powerhouse facility would also be built near the lake, on the west side of Grand Avenue near Lakeland Village.
The county and city of Lake Elsinore have formally opposed the project that has seen different iterations dating back as far as 1988.
More recently, on June 18, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and solicited comments from the public on a Scoping Document for a revised LEAPS project.
Due to coronavirus concerns, however, the FERC never held open meetings as part of the process, and gave an Aug. 17 deadline for the public to comment in writing on the Scoping Document. (Find the Scoping Document here, which includes instructions on how to comment.)
A staff report for the board of supervisors states that the FERC should have held virtual meetings "as so many governmental agencies are doing right now," so that residents, the county, the city of Lake Elsinore, and other concerned agencies "could have had a meaningful opportunity to verbally provide their concerns and input on the LEAPS project."
According to the county's draft letter, several issues about the proposed project need to be analyzed in greater detail, including the purpose and need of LEAPS and how Nevada Hydro plans to address environmental concerns linked to the plan.
Thursday night, the city of Lake Elsinore held a LEAPS Virtual Community Workshop, which included panel discussion. The Zoom meeting was open to the public.
The upcoming Riverside County Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled Aug. 4 at 9:30 a.m. The full meeting agenda is available here.