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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow ACHP Case Digest arrow Fall 2002 arrow California: Development of the Medicine Lake Highlands
Closed case:
California: Geothermal Development at the Medicine Lake Highlands

Agencies: Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service

As reported in the Summer 2002 and Spring 2002 Case Digests, a 48-megawatt power plant and associated wells, pipelines, and power lines are proposed to be constructed at a site called Telephone Flat, about two miles southeast of Medicine Lake in Northern California.

The geothermal development project would substantially affect the traditional cultural values associated with the Medicine Lake Traditional Cultural Property District, which is eligible for the National Register.

ACHP hosted a public meeting to hear local citizensí views on the proposed project, and has submitted its comments to the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture.

In August 2002, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) terminated consultation on the project because an agreement was not reached on how effects to historic properties should be taken into account if the Telephone Flat project is approved. As part of the Section 106 process, BLM requested comments from ACHP.

Consulting parties at Payne Spring meadow, Medicine Lake Highlands, California



Consulting parties at the Payne Spring meadow, a traditional cultural site of the Pit River Tribe, Medicine Lake Highlands, CA (staff photo)



In September 2002, the ACHP chairman appointed a panel of three ACHP members to review the case and develop comments. The panel hosted a public meeting in Mt. Shasta, California, at which 33 people spoke and more than 80 people attended. Representatives of the Pit River, Klamath, Modoc, and Shasta tribes participated, along with representatives from BLM, the U.S. Forest Service, and Calpine Corporation, the company developing the project.

View of the Medicine Lake Highlands, California



View of the Medicine Lake Highlands, CA (staff photo)




Most of the speakers at the hearing were opposed to development of the power plant at the Telephone Flat site. Many said the noise, visual impacts, odor, steam plumes, pipelines, powerlines, and roads associated with the power plant would be incompatible with the area’s use by Native Americans.

Some said that the energy company involved in the project and the Federal agencies do not understand the significance of the Medicine Lake Highlands to the tribes’ spiritual beliefs and tribal members’ use of Medicine Lake and the surrounding highlands for healing and other spiritual needs.

Other speakers said they opposed the project because it would have negative impacts on the natural environment, recreation, and tourism, which they said are more important to the local economy than the jobs and revenue that would be created by the power plant. Some speakers suggested that the need for clean, renewable energy sources could be better met by focusing on wind and solar energy sources.

A smaller number of speakers supported geothermal development. A representative from the energy company said that it is committed to developing Telephone Flat in a responsible way and that it would mitigate impacts caused by the development.

He said that development at Medicine Lake is needed to enable the company to meet a State requirement that 20 percent of energy companies’ production must be from renewable resources. In addition, he said, there are indications that the Medicine Lake Highlands could be the largest untapped geothermal energy source in the State.

A Pit River tribal member from Alturas suggested that Indian tribes would benefit from the jobs and income created from geothermal development. She said the economic boost would be important to help lift the tribes out of poverty and help them deal with social and health issues. A member of the Shasta Nation, Inc., also supported the project, saying geothermal development is preferable to the expansion of recreation homes at the lake.

Before the hearing, the panel of ACHP members visited the proposed Telephone Flat site with the project’s consulting parties. A BLM geologist led the tour, which included stops at the Red Shale Butte overlook of the Medicine Lake Caldera, a well site on the Telephone Flat project, and an active drilling site on the Fourmile Hill project.

ACHP members also met with representatives of the Pit River and Klamath/Modoc tribes, the two federally recognized Indian tribes involved in consultation and who are both opposed to the project.

On September 27, 2002, ACHP Chairman John L. Nau, III, sent ACHP’s comments on the project to Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.

The comments expressed ACHP’s opposition to the project, which stated that “the costs to the historic resources of Native Americans and our Nation are too high.” The chairman also asked that BLM and the Forest Service work with ACHP to find ways to improve the consideration of historic properties in approving lands for energy leasing.

Read ACHP's comments to the U.S. Department of the Interior

For background information on this case, see the Spring 2002 Case Digest and the Summer 2002 Case Digest.

Staff contact: Carol Gleichman

Posted November 8, 2002

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