California: Fourmile Hill and
Telephone Flat Geothermal
Developments, Modoc and
Klamath National Forests
Agencies: Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management
Criteria for Council Involvement:
- The proposed geothermal projects will have a substantial impact on historic sites and districts 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 any development of the Medicine Lake Highlands for geothermal energy (Criterion 3).
The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have announced that they will not authorize construction of the proposed Telephone Flat Geothermal Development due, in large part, to the projectís effects on traditional cultural properties (TCPs) in the Medicine Lake Highlands. The second pending geothermal project in the area, the Fourmile Hill Geothermal Development, will be authorized, and on May 26, the Council executed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for the project. While the effects of the project will be adverse, they are predicted to be less severe than the Telephone Flat project, which would have been located within the boundary of a TCP district.
Medicine Lake Highlands, California, with Mt. Shasta in the distance
The MOA provides for the Forest Service to work in partnership with several Northern California Indian tribes to develop a Historic Properties Management Program for the Medicine Lake Highlands. In addition, within five years, the Forest Service will assess the need to amend its land and resource management plans to better protect the traditional cultural values of the area. The MOA also provides for minimizing auditory and visual effects of the project and carefully monitoring project effects on traditional use of properties and the natural environment.
Under the terms of the MOA, the project sponsor will reimburse the tribes and the Native Coalition for Medicine Lake Highlands Defense (Native Coalition) for their work in implementing the agreement and will post a surety bond sufficient to cover costs associated with site reclamation.
The joint Forest Service and BLM record of decision also requires establishment of a citizen oversight panel and a five year moratorium on further development of the geothermal leases in the Medicine Lake Highlands, pending further analysis of impacts.
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 project. CalEnergy submitted a Plan of Operation for the Telephone Flat project in 1997.
Both projects proposed 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. As the Federal land managing agency, the Forest Service is the lead agency for Section 106 compliance. BLM has also participated in consultation since it is responsible for the administration of geothermal operations and subsurface activities.
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. The area contains two TCP districts eligible for the National Register, one centered on Medicine Lake another on Timber Mountain. Three individual TCP sites are also present. 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 project was to be located within the boundary of this TCP district.
The Shasta and Klamath/Modoc Indian Tribes have taken a neutral position on the proposed developments. The Pit River Tribe and individual tribal members from other tribes, however, have objected to the proposed developments, citing the extent to which proposed and future geothermal development will impact the spiritual power of this place, as well as traditional practitionersí access to important sites.
Additionally, the Native Coalition, which represents traditional cultural elders and practitioners from several tribes and tribal organizations, has actively participated in consultation and supports the Pit River Tribeís views. In March, the Pit River Tribal Chairman and other tribal members met with high level officials in the Departments of Interior and Agriculture to express their objections to the geothermal development and their concern with the manner in which consultation has proceeded.
This case illustrates the importance of identifying and considering the effects of undertakings on TCPs early in project planning, before commitments are made to allow development. BLMís decision to lease this area for geothermal development in the 1980s without going through Section 106 review limited its options in considering the proposed Plans of Operation, such as selecting an alternative site.
By denying approval of the Telephone Flat project and entering into an MOA for the Fourmile Hill Project, the Forest Service and BLM have demonstrated their willingness to take serious action to address effects on historic properties. However, traditional practitioners and the Native Coalition feel strongly that the cumulative effects of multiple geothermal developments remain inadequately considered.
The projects are only two of up to ten anticipated developments for which leases have been issued. Because of tribal concerns with cumulative effects, the MOA strongly emphasizes the development of a long-term program to protect TCPs and consideration of revising management direction for this area.
Staff contact: Carol Gleichman
October 1999 report on this case
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