By BEN MITCHELL
The Yakama Nation filed a complaint with the Federal Energy Regulation Commission last month detailing fears that an important archaeological site would be endangered by a Williams Northwest gas pipeline replacement project occurring along the White Salmon River.
Now that the project is under way, representatives of the Yakama Nation say the archaeological site is “currently being destroyed.”
“As a result of Williams Northwest Pipeline and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission not adhering to federal laws and moving beyond scoped boundaries, a White Salmon historic site is facing ruin,” said Ruth Jim, a Yakama Nation councilwoman and chair of the Roads, Irrigation and Land Committee, in a press release.
“Current construction cannot be sustained without additional destruction of significant archaeological resources.”
The project involves moving a 120-foot section of natural gas pipeline which had been previously buried beneath the White Salmon River. The pipeline became exposed due to the significant erosion that followed the breaching of Condit Dam. Williams Northwest is currently in the process of placing the pipeline on the eastern bank of the White Salmon River in the area just north of the Northwestern Lake Road Bridge.
Emily Washines, public relations specialist for the Yakama Nation Fisheries Program, said that Jon Shellenberger, an archaeologist with the Yakama Nation Cultural Resource Program, visited the project Nov. 27 and personally witnessed damages occurring to the site, which included the removal of artifacts from their resting places.
Moreover, Shellenberger determined that a portion of the project had exceeded its planned boundaries.
Washines said Shellenberger then immediately contacted FERC and the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation — a state bureau which had recently issued a No Historic Properties Affected” determination — to alert them of the issue.
On Nov. 29, Robert Whitlam, state archaeologist for the WDAHP, sent a letter to FERC saying that the Yakamas’ new complaint “raises substantive concerns about immediate impacts to archaeological resources and we request your attention and review to assure no archaeological resources are damaged nor destroyed.”
The complaint is one of several issues the Yakama have with the project, which Washines said is in violation of federal law and was “fast-tracked without proper consultation.”
In addition to the project moving beyond its scoped boundaries and the destruction of the archaeological site, the Yakama assert that they were not properly consulted about the project, which Washines said “moved forward without our comments.”
The Yakama also say the project is on a tribal allotment and infringes on their hunting, fishing and other rights associated with the allotment.
Another issue is whether or not PacifiCorp, which owns the land within the project area, illegally issued a right-of-way to Williams Northwest for the pipeline project. Washines said the Bureau of Indian Affairs has no record of the right-of-way and said the Yakama are “requesting PacifiCorp provide evidence of a right-of-way through the Yakama allotment.”
Michele Swaner, a spokesperson for the Utah-based Williams Northwest, maintained that her company has “acted in good faith” throughout the permitting process for the project and said that Williams Northwest is well aware of the archaeological site and has taken the required precautions to make sure it isn’t damaged.
The Yakama have beseeched FERC to intervene and have requested “an emergency government-to-government meeting (with FERC) to address the activities and Yakama Nation concerns before the project does more harm.”
FERC representatives did not immediately reply to requests from for comment.
The Yakama are making urgent pleas because the new section of pipeline is inching toward completion. Williams Northwest expected the project to be finished by the end of December.