Owens Dry Lake cultural sites at risk again? Tribal preservation officer asks LADWP to halt work

Owens Valley tribal members and other residents are attempting to halt work on a section of the latest Owens Lake dust mitigation project because they fear the work will destroy a culturally sensitive site.

Lone Pine Tribal Preservation Officer Kathy Bancroft said Monday that she feels one section of the current dust mitigation project (Phase 7a) should be ruled a culturally sensitive site.

If that determination is made, Bancroft said, the site in question could be moved into the project’s Phase 7b in accordance with an agreement between the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District.

All culturally sensitive sites that are moved into Phase 7b will be reviewed by a Cultural Resources Task Force, which will make recommendations on how dust control measures can be implemented without destroying the artifacts identified at the site.

According to Bancroft, the site in question is the location of a massacre of native people in 1863 and contains thousands of artifacts.

Bancroft said she was under the impression that this particular site had been removed from Phase 7a and included in Phase 7b last year, and would be subject to review by the Cultural Resources Task Force. But earlier this month, while doing routine work on Owens Lake, she said she realized LADWP contractors were preparing to begin dust mitigation work in the sensitive area.

In response, she sent a letter to the LADWP asking for work to stop so the site can be evaluated and, hopefully, moved into Phase 7b. Bancroft said that the LADWP agreed Friday to hold off on work in the area until this Thursday while it looked into her request.

According to LADWP Public Relations Officer Chris Plakos, the LADWP received a letter from the Lone Pine Tribe expressing concerns about the site and the work that is scheduled to begin there this week. Plakos said that letter was forwarded to Great Basin with a request that the air pollution agency provide guidance on how to proceed with the request.

Air Pollution Control Officer Ted Schade said Monday that Great Basin regulates air pollution, and does not have the authority to stop mitigation work. He explained that per last year’s agreement with the LADWP, two LADWP-contracted archeologists are required to review each cultural site on the lake and make a recommendation as to whether it should be included in Phase 7a, or moved to Phase 7b and subject to a Task Force evaluation.

Schade said he is aware that a request has been made to include this particular site in Phase 7b, but he cannot approve that request unless two archeologists evaluate the site and both recommend it be included in Phase 7b.

He did add that if the two archeologists have conflicting recommendations, the State Lands Commission will review the request and make a recommendation on how to proceed.

Schade said he has not received any recommendations on this particular site, either from the two LADWP archeologists, or from the State Lands Commission.

Bancroft said she fears work will continue and the site will be destroyed.

“In the past, there has been such a bad record of labeling (cultural sites) as insignificant and going in and destroying them,” Bancroft said. “We just said, ‘That’s it, you’re not going to destroy anything.’ And we’ve gotten it put on hold for a couple days.”

Bancroft said she had hoped to find out Monday if work would continue at the site this week. She said that if the site is not to be moved into Phase 7b and construction crews move forward with the mitigation work (which is scheduled to resume Thursday) a group of local residents has planned to hold a demonstration at the lake Wednesday afternoon.

“Within the whole dust control area process they did archeology” studies," Bancroft said. “Phase 7a is all these little dust control sites and a certain part of each of them have archeological sensitive sites on them. The idea was to put a buffer around (the sensitive sites) and move them to 7b. We’ve worked so hard to save these sites, and when you think it’s finally coming together and they’re working with you, then you find out it’s just the same old thing. If they’re going to do construction on Thursday, then we’re going to go out and stop them.”

Bancroft said that the site in question is about 50 acres within the greater three square miles of the Phase 7a project. “We don’t know why it’s such a big deal. How important can that 50 acres be” to the overall dust mitigation project? she asked.

Bancroft said Wednesday’s demonstration is tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. She added that if the site is included in Phase 7b by Wednesday, the demonstration will be cancelled.

Anyone who is interested in participating is invited to email Bancroft at kathy.bncrft@yahoo.com.