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Courthouse News Service, May 11, 2015
House Bulldozed for Wind Farm, Family Says
LOS ANGELES (CN) – Wind energy companies bulldozed a black family’s house because they were the sole holdouts who refused to sell out to a huge wind farm, the family claims in court.
Darlene Dotson and her sons David and Daniel sued EDP Renewables North America, Horizon Wind Energy Co., Rising Tree Wind Farm, CVE Contracting Group, and Renewable Land LLC, on May 7 in Superior Court.
The family wastes no time in getting down to specifics. “Plaintiffs in this action are the victims of a multinational energy developer who refused to accept ‘No’ for an answer,” the 32-page complaint begins.
“The heart of the issue is that the Dotsons own property in Mojave that is sought after by EDP Renewables for windmills, and they refuse to sell,” the family’s attorney Morgan Stewart told Courthouse News.
Mojave, pop. 4,300, is 50 miles east of Bakersfield, below the Tehachapi Mountains, on the edge of the immense Mojave Desert.
“The home on the property was a family home they used for family vacations and gatherings. EDP pressured them to sell, but they still refused,” Stewart said.
“The house was damaged several times when they were away. And then one time when they went back to the house they found that it had been demolished, scraped to the foundations, along with all of their belongings. The companies did it.
“We see it as intentional because EDP needed the property for the wind farm, but the Dotsons wouldn’t sell,” Stewart said.
EDP Renewables is building the Rising Tree Wind Farm about 3 miles west of Mojave in Kern County.
Project leaders estimate the wind farm will generate 199 megawatts of electricity when it goes online sometime this year – enough to power around 60,000 homes and take 33,000 cars off the road.
The Dotsons say the defendants first approached them about the wind farm in 2009, claiming they needed to buy the surrounding parcels of land, including the Dotsons’ land, for the wind farm.
The Tehachapi Mountains, which top out at 7,992 feet, generate nearly constant winds, as the cool air on top and the Pacific Ocean to the west suck the superheated desert air through the mountain passes.
“Like the infamous Daniel Plainview from Paul Thomas Anderson’s Film, ‘There Will Be Blood,’ defendants held themselves out as friends to the local community and a source of prosperity for its residents. Among other things, defendants promised Mrs. Dotson and her neighbors that the wind farm would stimulate the local economy and generate energy revenue for cooperating landowners. All that Mrs. Dotson and her neighbors had to do was to sign over the rights to their homes,” the complaint states.
But Darlene Dotson says she resisted the sales pitch, telling the companies she was not interested in selling because her family “cherished” their home and its underlying history more than the companies’ offers of money.
“The house had been in their family for 20 years, and was one of the original homesteads built by African Americans in the early 20th century,” attorney Stewart said.
The Dotsons used the home for family gatherings, vacations, barbeques and birthday parties. Daniel and David Dotson grew up playing in the house and then took their own children to play there. It was “hallowed ground” to the family, according to the complaint.
In addition to memories, the house contained the Dotsons’ family mementos, including photographs of deceased family members, family heirlooms and antiques.
Though all of their neighbors agreed to sell or lease their land, the Dotsons held out and “respectfully declined” the companies’ numerous offers, according to the complaint.
When the companies realized the family was adamant about keeping their home, they became aggressive and hostile, the Dotsons say. Mrs. Dotson claims the companies’ agents insulted her and spoke to her disrespectfully, and told her that “the home was worthless and that the Dotsons should take the money because it was the best they would ever get for the land.”
They harassed her sons and tried to bully them into persuading her to sell the house by threatening to “surround the home on all sides with the wind farm, restricting the Dotson’s access to the home and causing the home’s property value to plummet,” the complaint states.
Stewart said the companies wanted the property so badly they approached the Dotsons’ neighbors and asked them how to persuade the Dotsons to sell.
Then the defendants vandalized the house, breaking windows and patio furniture, the Dotsons claim. “In essence, the Dotsons were being terrorized in their home,” the complaint states.
In February this year the defendants started demolishing the surrounding homes to develop the land for the wind farm.
When David Dotson went up to the family home in late March to do some maintenance, he discovered that the home was “literally wiped off the face of the Earth,” that all the furnishings and family belongings “were simply eviscerated,” the complaint states.
Stewart said the family is not sure exactly when the house was demolished, but suspects it was around the time the companies started knocking down the other homes.
The Dotsons say several people from the companies called and left messages admitting that they had demolished the Dotson’s home and insisting that it was a mistake.
But the Dotsons claim it was a deliberate ploy to make them sell their land.
“The pressure to sell from EDP, the strong-arm tactics leading up to the demolition, and coming along afterward and trying to buy again, all indicate that this was not an accident,” Stewart said. “This was an intentional act by a company that thought it could strong-arm these people.”
Though there is no direct evidence of racism, Stewart thinks the Dotsons’ race had something to do with it.
“They are the only African American family in the area, the only ones pressured very hard by the companies, and the only ones who had their house demolished when they refused to sell,” he said.
Stewart said it takes a deliberate effort to destroy a house because the gas and water must be turned off, among other things.
“It’s especially sad because they described how they built parts of the house with their own hands. It’s ugly,” he said.
Representatives with the companies did not reply to requests for comment.
The Dotsons seek punitive damages for trespass to land, violation of the Bane Civil Rights Act, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conversion, nuisance, unfair business practices and negligence.
Attorney Stewart is with Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, of Irvine.
[NOTE: EDP Renewables is the power developer proposing a 150-megawatt, 50-turbine wind power project in Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry, and currently operates the South Branch wind “farm” in Brinston, Ontario]