Member Update )
October 2005
  • A win in the California courts against a land trade stops dumping in the desert
  • What makes the Charpieds our heroes
  • Greetings!

    This month's e-news is about the success of local groups in the Chuckwalla Valley, Caochella Valley and Morongo Basin outside LA in fighting a huge landfill. Our thanks go out to committed citizens like them. Joanne Hedou, Program Coordinator

    Cartoon by Buzz Gambill

    A win in the California courts against a land trade stops dumping in the desert
    Eagle Mountain Air Photo of LX

    We recently got great news from two cohorts in California. Donna and Larry Charpied, jojoba farmers in the Chuckwalla Valley, have been fighting the Eagle Mountain Landfill for 18 years. The creation of this dump—enfolded by land in the Joshua Tree National Park—would be facilitated by a land swap between Kaiser Ventures’ Mine Reclamation Corporation and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). At risk are 3,481 acres of BLM land surrounding an old Kaiser Mine site. (Photo on right shows land to be swapped in red. Courtesy of Howard Gross/NPCA) (Map below courtesy of Give it Back)
    If the deal goes through, these lands will be traded to Kaiser for 2,486 acres in 10 non-contiguous parcels that Kaiser owns along an old rail line. The company then proposes to use the very same line to transport 20 million tons of waste from counties in the LA area to the desert site—in seven one-mile long double-decker trains every day! The now-dormant line bisects habitat for desert tortoise and other protected species.

    Donna and Larry have lived in the area since the 1980's and have spent a large amount of their personal funds to fight the exchange and landfill. They led other locals in forming the Citizens for Chuckwalla Valley (link below) to fight the landfill. (For some insight into the local response, see our quick link below to the song "Raw Trash Cannonball" by Eric Neil) If the deal goes through, the Charpieds and their neighbors will see the dump nestled among the mountains from their front yards. The dust created by the landfill will degrade the air quality in an area that has been identified as the last remaining Class I Airshed in the continental United States.

    This is the third lawsuit that has been brought against the landfill. Concerns about the land exchange, dust, impacts on an elementary school across from the site and groundwater contamination are all issues that the Charpieds and others have brought before the court. Judge Robert Trimlin, of the Central District Federal Court in Riverside, determined in late September that the public’s interest had not been well served by the uneven valuation of the lands involved. In addition, he noted that the project proponents had not demonstrated satisfactory plans to mitigate environmental impacts on the park land. Hi Desert Sun article on the victory.

    Kaiser Ventures has 60 days to file an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco. Donna and Larry, working with the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), in Riverside, the Palm Springs based Desert Protection Society, and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) will continue their fight and we will support them in responding to any appeals.

    What makes the Charpieds our heroes

    The Eagle Mountain Landfill project is typical of our work to protect the public lands system against privatization and disposal efforts. Donna and Larry Charpied recognized the significance of the Eagle Mountain proposal both to their local community and for its broader implications for public lands. For their persistence in fighting the Eagle Mountain Landfill, they have been called “Jojoba’s Witnesses.” But their commitment has paid off and the success of the lawsuit affirms the interest of all US citizens while at the same time bolstering the protection of their local community.

    This case broaches a question that Western Lands faces every day in its work: Will the needs of the increasing population in the US supersede the policy of retaining large amounts of land in the public domain? Most citizens until now have taken this public trust as a given but the efforts of private interests like Kaiser, combined with public servants who accommodate them, threaten to eviscerate the public domain. Elements of these projects that this one includes are:

    • Kaiser Ventures, with the complicity of the BLM, is participating in what they see as a pragmatic approach to solving southern California's waste disposal problems by using the large expanses of public land outside metropolitan LA.
    • The burgeoning counties around Los Angeles, like many others throughout the US, are faced with an ever-increasing need to dispose of solid waste and are looking towards seemingly remote places to “hide” their waste. But the residents of affected communities like those in the Chuckwalla Valley, Coachella Valley and Morongo Basin consider these places their home.
    • Western Lands works at the local level with grassroots groups to protect land like this, but Joshua Tree National Park and the BLM lands around it also belong to all American citizens.

    Each individual parcel that is taken out of the public domain or on which habitat or natural resources are destroyed is a loss not only to the local community but to the entire country. Projects like the one at Eagle Mountain are part of an overall crusade to take over public lands for the short-term development and profit of a few people. We are working nationwide to alert people of this trend.

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