In the latest bad news for Indigenous people whose cultural resources have been horribly impacted by CalTrans' Willits Bypass, Big Orange's construction crews have damaged another known archeological site.
The incident took place on June 12th. CalTrans Associate Environmental Planner Timothy Keefe, who is based in the agency's Eureka office, revealed the incident in a phone call to Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians Historic Preservation Officer Eddie Knight, whose tribe has been closely involved in monitoring construction activities.
The damaged archeological deposit occurs in an area roughly 20 meters in diameter, on a parcel where CalTrans is carrying out “environmental mitigation” for the stated purpose of offsetting the freeway's environmental destruction. CalTrans' construction crews ran a ditchwitch across the site, so as to install a waterline (exact purpose unknown).
Even after Keefe and the construction crews realized they had just run machinery through a site they had previously identified as archeologically significant, but had not yet studied in any consequential fashion, they determined that work in the area should continue. In other words, rather than stop work and evaluate the damage, gather information from the archeological deposit that had been fractured by the fresh ground-disturbing, or even notify tribes to get their input on the situation, the construction team plunged ahead with installing a waterline in the trench.
Then, they backfilled it.
Keefe, the principal CalTrans archeologist on the project, gave the decision to fill in the site after running through it with a ditchwitch his blessing.
Tribal monitors were not present at the time, although the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians has been adamantly requesting that CalTrans hire two more such monitors to keep up with the huge scope of work taking place on both the Bypass construction route and, as in this case, on the Bypass mitigation lands.
The way this incident played out once again speaks volumes for CalTrans' attitude toward working with Indigenous people, as with the agency's desecration last year of a site called “CA-MEN-3571,” which has been nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.
In that case, CalTrans' surveyors identified the site during field work in 2011. At the time, CalTrans recognized that the site, which is likely associated with the historic Little Lake Pomo village of Yami, was smack-dab in the middle of the Bypass destruction swath.
By the time Bypass construction finally kicked off in March 2013, someone employed by Big Orange had decided that CA-MEN-3571 was not located in the Bypass route after all. CalTrans partially excavated the area, then installed roughly 1,500 wick drains and piled on three feet worth of fill soil there.
Representatives of the Sherwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians and Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, and perhaps others, persistently questioned CalTrans representatives about this clerical decision. They wanted to make sure CA-MEN-3571 really was located outside the Bypass bootprint.
Lo and behold, CalTrans revealed in a blasé e-mail to Sherwood Valley Tribal Chairman Mike Fitzgerral in September 2013, CA-MEN-3571 was located in the Bypass bootprint all along. Only after creating a map of archeological sites impacted by the project, they claim, did they realize they were in error.
Yet, in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act, CalTrans was supposed to have completed the map of archeological sites prior to beginning construction. In fact, CalTrans failed to mention the overwhelming majority of Native archeological sites in its environmental impact review (EIR) documents. CalTrans' 2006 EIR only mentions one Pomo archeological deposit.
In the case of the more recent incident, CalTrans contractor crews were not working not on the freeway route, but instead were carrying out so-called “mitigation construction” activities on some of the 2,100 acres CalTrans had purchased to “mitigate” for the damage to wetlands, oak trees, fisheries, and other legally protected natural resources. The particular unit of Big Orange's Willits-area land empire where the damage took place is located near the intersection of Reynolds Highway and Heast Rd, on land Big Orange's real estate arm purchased several years ago from the Frost family (Little Lake Valley ranchers).
According to the most recent information I've seen, this parcel is one of the areas where CalTrans plans to “create” wetlands by excavating soil from already-functioning wetlands – a so-called “Group 2” wetlands creation site.
The incident highlights the manifold problems with CalTrans' mitigation plan, which relies on excavation of 266,000 cubic yards of soil for the purpose of “creating wetlands.” All of this soil excavation, which takes place across an area of land much larger and more far-flung than the Bypass, will invariably further harm to Indigenous people's ancestral remains.
In April, the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians passed a resolution calling on CalTrans to eliminate soil excavation as part of the Bypass mitigation, to eliminate the project's arbitrarily massive northern interchange, and to provide compensation for damage already done.
I will have more information on this story, as well as other developments with the Willits Bypass, in the print edition of the AVA that comes out on Wednesday, June 25th.
Contact Will Parrish at wparrish[at]riseup[dot]net.