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Tribes Challenge California Solar Project

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (CN) - Colorado River Indian Tribes asked a federal judge to reverse approval of the Blythe solar project in the Mojave Desert, claiming the 4,000-acre project will disturb ancestral burial grounds.

Colorado River Indian Tribes - which include Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajos - sued the Department of Interior and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Dec. 4 under the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Land Policy Management Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

The tribes want a judge to rescind federal approval of the Blythe Solar facility, which would generate 485 megawatts of solar electricity on 4,000 acres of federal land. The tribes' reservation is a few miles to the northeast of the project.

The tribes say the area of is of great cultural and religious significance to them, as they are "strongly connected to the physical environment of the area, including the ancient trails, petroglyphs, grindstones, hammerstones, and other cultural resources known to exist there."

"The removal or destruction of these artifacts and the development of the project as planned will cause CRIT [Colorado Indian Tribes], its government, and its members irreparable harm," 19-page lawsuit states.

The tribes claim the government fast-tracked the project without adequately discussing the impact of the project on the area.

Ten solar energy projects have been approved or are under consideration by the Obama administration, according to the lawsuit.

"Together, these projects cover over 35,000 acres of CRIT's ancestral homeland. Dozens of additional applications in this area are still pending," the complaint states.

The tribes say the Bureau of Land Management's approval of the project violates federal environmental laws. They seek declaratory judgment, an injunction, attorney's fees and costs.

They are represented by Winter King, with Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger of San Francisco, which specializes in environmental litigation.

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