Saturday, March 22nd, was an eventful and interesting day for those invested in the well-being of Inyo County. The day culminated with a great fundraising event for the Owens Valley Committee, featuring an engaging talk by solar expert Bill Powers, a silent auction to raise money for the Committee, and a premiere of the new OVC promo video (with a score composed by yours truly).

As could be expected, the current issues pertaining to the REGPA and possible industrial development in Inyo County were weighing on the minds of many. (THE OVC’s previous work focusing on water issues in Owens Valley has been somewhat overshadowed by the current REGPA situation – an unfortunate side-effect of a small community being forced to bear the burden of its own protection when government officials seem to be lacking in that endeavor.) To that end, I took some time to sit down with Inyo County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio before the OVC event, in large part to get his input on solar industrial development in Inyo County, the REGPA, and how he sees the current situation playing out.

We met at Black Sheep Coffee in Bishop at 4:00 pm. Saturday was warm – a spring day with ominous undertones beckoning the onset of a hot summer in the Eastern Sierra – so we sat inside in the shade. Large paintings of the landscapes right outside the front doors of the establishment are displayed on the walls, evidence of the importance they hold to the owners of the coffee shop. Carunchio brought up the location as a meeting place when we decided to get together and speak, mentioning his affinity for the artwork currently on display. I agreed, and for an hour-and-a-half I listened to the County Administrator talk.

You might be guessing that after such a length of time, discussing such an important issue as the REGPA and industrial development, that I would have a lot to report. At the beginning of our meeting, Carunchio requesting that I not record the interview, and also that he not be quoted at all. Out of respect, I honored both requests. As a result, there’s not much I can pass on to readers about our County Administrative Officer’s thoughts on the future of Inyo’s open spaces.

Without retelling the CAO’s words, I can express that Carunchio seems to truly believe he’s doing everything he can to protect Inyo County from widespread development. I can also express that either the Inyo County Board of Supervisors truly holds the power in how this decision plays out, or that this is what Carunchio wants me to believe. Without the ability to take a specific quote from the CAO regarding this, he’s left it up to us to decide.

So, you may be asking, what role does any of this play? As a participant in the process, I can pass along to readers that our efforts to protect the county should continue to grow and remain focused. I can tell you my own critical thinking, based on the evidence, that the county may be seeing DWP’s Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch as a foregone conclusion. I wish I could report more solid evidence one way or the other, but I have only been left with so much.

If I am to speak as a concerned citizen of Inyo – not a writer, web designer, or reporter – my recommendation would be to do everything you can to speak with your supervisor about options, about flaws in the REGPA, and about how the document needs to be changed to address the numerous problems it presents. After all, my meeting on Saturday was with a county employee that reports to the Board of Supervisors – not the other way around. Whether they know it or not, the supervisors do have significant power, not only regarding the future of Inyo County, but also in keeping accountable the administrative officials they employ.

After my meeting with Carunchio, we both walked together to the Mountain Light Gallery for the Owens Valley Committee event. I hoped, after speaking for such a long amount of time with the CAO, that he might stay for Bill Powers’ presentation about “Solar Done Right.” Unfortunately, after making the rounds and shaking the important hands, Carunchio left before Powers spoke. It’s my hope that the reality matches the rhetoric, and that our CAO is keeping the conservation of Inyo County at the top of his priority list.

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