Monday, March 3, 2008

Interview with Donna Charpied--Part II: the Charpieds' Fight for Eagle Mountain

Check out Part I of my interview with Donna (February 28, 2008) if you missed it.

In 2005 I met Donna and her husband Laurence at a reception at the Twentynine Palms home of Huell Howser, host of the PBS series, California's Gold. That afternoon, the Joshua Tree National Park Association honored the couple with the 2005 Minerva Hoyt Desert Conservation Award for their work in desert conservation, specifically for leading the fight to prevent the building of the world's largest garbage dump inside a thumb-shaped stretch of desert in the Eagle Mountains on the southeastern border of Joshua Tree National Park.

The Charpieds (LaRonna Jojoba Company) are the world's first Certified Organic jojoba growers and processors. For the last 21 years they have campaigned against the Eagle Mountain dump.

(photo: Joshua Tree National Park, 2000)

Donna, what have you and your husband Larry done to fight the proposed Eagle Mountain dump?

Donna: In 1992, when the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved the first environmental-impact report, the county admitted that the dump would increase air and water pollution in the Coachella and Chuckwalla Valleys. Larry and I picked up a how-to book on legal challenges and filed a successful lawsuit in pro-per in the Superior Court of California in the County of San Diego, challenging the adequacy of the document and charging the Board of Supervisors with abusing their discretion.

The 1994 court ruling put the project back to square one, and in 1997 the polluters released a "new and improved EIR." We successfully defended our position, then in 1999, the Court of Appeals overturned Judge Judith McConnell's rulings. We took the case to the California Supreme Court, with "friends of the court" letters from a number of environmental organizations, including one filed by then Attorney General, Bill Lockhart. The court denied our petition without providing a reason.

We've gotten groups behind us including the NDRC, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, the National Parks Conservation Association, and many more. The managers at Joshua Tree National Park and regional staff opposed the dump.We've been in and out of court many times to fight the dump.

In September, 2005, the Central District Federal Court in Riverside ruled in our favor. Judge Robert Timlin reversed the land exchange and ruled on a number of National Environmental Quality Act violations. The government and the polluters appealed that decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Allison: What's happening with the case now?

Donna: A panel of three judges heard our case December 6, 2007, and we await their decision. We believe that the 2005 court order will stand.

Allison: Talk about "Give it Back," listed on your website as "A Campaign to Return 29,775 Acres of Land in the Eagle Mountain Range to Joshua Tree National Park and Designate the Defunct Kaiser Mine and Townsite a National Historic Landmark."

Donna: It's a campaign started by the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), based in Riverside, and the Citizens for Chuckwalla Valley to return that land near the mine to Joshua Tree National Park. Lands under the dominion of the National Park Service are protected in perpetuity whereas land from the Bureau of Land Management can have multiple uses. The land around Eagle Mountain, where Kaiser's defunct mine is, once belonged to Joshua Tree National Monument.

The U.S. Congress reinforced the importance of this area when they added 300,00 acres to Joshua Tree National Monument and elevated Joshua Tree's status to National Park in the 1994 Desert Protection Act. We want them to give it back and make Eagle Mountain a National Historic Landmark. Funny that on one hand Senator Feinstein protected the desert with the 1994 act, except where Eagle Mountain is concerned. There is language that says the act will not interfere with the development of the dump. So she is actually trying to protect the dump from the desert instead of vice-versa. We want them to give the land back and make the Eagle Mountain Mine a National Historic Landmark.

Allison: Tell me about the architecture project.

Donna: Last year we challenged Eric Shamp and Eric Stotts, architects from Redlands, to design a research institute, eco-tourism site, and heritage center, all fueled by renewable energy, for the abandoned Eagle Mountain town site. The team then challenged the Los Angeles chapter of the Emerging Green Builders to adopt the "Vision for Eagle Mountain" as a design competition. The winning entry was submitted by two undergrad students from Cal Poly Pomona who went on to take third place at the Greenbuild International Conference in Chicago. (See for more info).

Allison: When will you consider the fight to save Eagle Mountain over?

Donna: When the polluters pack their bags and leave. It would require the U.S. Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management to agree to give the land back . Our vision will come to fruition when the 29,775 acres are returned to Joshua Tree National Park and the Eagle Mountain mining area becomes a historical monument. And we begin to look at the area in a sustainable way. The vision for Eagle Mountain will be a showcase to the nation that communities can develop sustainably with a strong economic base.

Allison: What would you like to see for the future?

Donna: We need to manage waste where it is generated and not shift our pollution into another person's backyard. Transporting mega amounts of garbage over 200 miles to deposit into an area that boasts of a Class 1 airshed is not only insane, but will contribute exponentially to global warming.There are alternatives to dumps, but industry has a strong infuence on government officials. (she smiles) However, if the Eagle Mountain dump comes to fruition, civil disobedience will kick in.

Allison: How can readers interested in saving Eagle Mountain or desert conservation help?

Donna: Check out our website at On April 18-19, 2008, we're having a benefit concert at Pappy & Harriet's in Pioneertown to raise funds for the legal bills. (See also

Although our legal team of Stephan Volker Law Offices are providing their services at a discounted rate due to the public interest nature of the case, the invoices add up. Our attorneys have done a yeoman's job of keeping L.A.'s trash from desert communities and Joshua Tree National Park.

To donate to the legal fund, make a check payable to CCAEJ, earmark it for the dump lawsuit, and send it to: Donna Charpied, P.O. Box 397, Desert Center, CA 92239.

Pappy & Harriet's Palace, touted as the "Best Honky Tonk West of the Mississippi," located in the high desert near Yucca Valley, has featured artists like Robert Plant, Leon Russell, Eric Burdon, and Rickie Lee Jones. The benefit, "Rockin' for Joshua Tree,"will feature artists to be announced soon.

I hope everyone comes out for that... a good way to support the efforts to keep Joshua Tree National Park the national treasure it is.

Coming up soon on this blog is an interview with Curt Sauer, superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park. Curt echoes many of Donna Charpied's concerns.

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