Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases:
California: Fourmile Hill and Telephone Flat Geothermal Developments
(Modoc and Klamath National Forests)
Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bonneville Power Administration
Criteria for Council Involvement:
- Two proposed geothermal projects will have a substantial impact on historic properties that Indian tribes use for hunting, plant-gathering, physical healing, prayer, spirit quests and other traditional purposes (Criteria 1 & 4).
- The Pit River Tribe has expressed strong objections to the timing and manner of consultation with tribes on these undertakings (Criterion 3).
In August 1999, the Council provided review comments to the Forest Service on a revised draft Programmatic Agreement (PA) and Historic Properties Management Plan (HPMP) for the Telephone Flat and Fourmile Hill Geothermal Developments in the Modoc and Klamath National Forests.
The Council noted that the mitigation measures proposed by the Forest Service to address effects to known traditional cultural properties (TCPs) at Medicine Lake and Timber Mountain do not appear commensurate with the nature and extent of the impacts. Consideration of additional alternatives for mitigation and additional consultation among the parties was requested.
The California State Historic Preservation Officer has requested that the Forest Service conduct additional studies to clarify whether other TCPs exist in the vicinity and requested that the PA and HPMP include a specific proposal for accommodating tribal use of the area. The Pit River Tribe and the Native Coalition for Medicine Lake Highlands Defense both oppose approval of the projects, stating that the adverse effects to traditional cultural use of the Medicine Lake Highlands cannot be mitigated. Calpine Corporation has requested a meeting to resolve these issues and attempt to reach agreement on the terms of a PA.
The Medicine Lake Highlands of northern California has been considered for possible geothermal development since the mid-1960s. (Geothermal leases were first issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the 1980s.) In 1996, Calpine Corporation submitted a Plan of Operation to BLM for construction and operation of the Fourmile Hill Geothermal Development Project. CalEnergy submitted a Plan of Operation for the Telephone Flat Project in 1997. Both projects propose the construction of well-fields, power plant facilities, and transmission lines. Most of these improvements would be located within the Modoc and Klamath National Forests.
Although archeological properties will likely be affected by project construction, the focus of consultation has been the religious importance of the Medicine Lake Highlands to several Northern California Indian tribes. Issues include the extent to which proposed and future geothermal development will impact the spiritual power of this place, as well as traditional practitioners’ access to important sites.
Consultation has been substantially complicated by disputes among the parties regarding identification of TCPs, eventually leading to review by the Keeper of the National Register. The Keeper has determined that the study area contains two eligible TCP Districts, one centered on Medicine Lake and another on Timber Mountain, and three individual TCP sites.
The Keeper found that Medicine Lake and the volcanic caldera it rests in contain an interrelated series of locations and natural features associated with the spiritual beliefs and traditional practices of local Indian groups. The proposed Telephone Flat Geothermal Development is located within the boundary of this TCP District. (The Keeper also indicated that the possibility remains of other potential TCPs outside these boundaries that merit investigation.)
The Council first became involved in review of these undertakings in September 1997, at the request of the Native Coalition. While the BLM is responsible for the administration of geothermal operations and subsurface activities, the Forest Service, the Federal land managing agency, is the lead agency for Section 106 compliance.
Additionally, the Bonneville Power Administration must decide whether to execute a power purchase agreement and a transmission services agreement with the project proponents. All three Federal agencies are participating in the Section 106 consultation. The Shasta and Modoc/Klamath Indian Tribes are negotiating, or have already reached, settlement agreements with the developers. The Pit River Tribe is working with the other consulting parties to ascertain whether the impacts of both projects can be addressed through development of a PA and HPMP.
This case illustrates the importance of coordinating Section 106 consultation with review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as well as the challenges faced by Indian tribes in protecting places of traditional importance in the face of development pressure. Delays in resolving the National Register eligibility of the TCPs have been costly for the project proponents and have resulted in the repeated postponment of completion of not only Section 106 but also of NEPA.
Although only one of three affected tribes opposes the proposed development, the Section 106 review has revealed the profound importance of this area to traditional practitioners and the importance of these places to the continuing cultural identify of the tribes. It is a difficult challenge to balance tribal concerns with the need for clean energy production in the context of BLM’s continuing policy to allow geothermal development in the Medicine Lake Highlands.
Staff contact: Carol Gleichman
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