A proposed interstate natural gas pipeline could endanger "significant" Fremont Indian ruins in Utah's West Desert, according to an environmental group.
And the pipeline plans are proceeding too quickly to be in accordance with federal laws, said Ken Rait, of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.Two pipeline companies - Kern River Gas Transmission and WyCal Pipeline - have been certified to build one, or possibly two, pipelines that would carry Wyoming gas to markets in Southern California. The plan has already angered residents in Davis and Salt Lake counties for safety and environmental reasons.
"Consultants for both Kern River and WyCal found very significant Fremont Indian village sites in the West Desert," Rait said. "Some of the plans included knocking the pipeline right through these sites. And these are big sites."
The Fremont Indians lived in Utah from about 600 A.D. to about 1300 A.D., when they were destroyed or assimilated into other tribes.
"So, not only is the pipeline endangering lives along the populated areas, but it is going to ruin our cultural and historic resources," Rait said.
In an Oct. 25 letter, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asked the State Historical Preservation Office to give its views on the results of "cultural resource surveys" that were prepared by the pipeline companies.
The energy commission, requesting "expeditious treatment," had asked for the preservation office's views by Nov. 7 because "Kern River is seeking to initiate construction in December 1990."
Rait said the request by the commission violates provisions of both the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Protection Act.
According to federal laws, Rait said, the commission must first determine whether any of the sites are worth placing under federal historic preservation. Then it must allow the state Historic Preservation Office 30 days to comment on the determination.
Furthermore, Rait said, anticipating construction for December 1990 violates federal laws by not allowing 30 days for mitigation plans to be drafted or 30 days for the preservation office and other interested parties to respond to the mitigation plans.
In other words, Rait said, "They are trying to speed up the process. And that's bad practice, a bad precedent. These laws were set up for a purpose."
Rait wrote to the energy commission asking that the pipeline companies "be gotten off the fast track to allow for proper assessment and protection of important cultural resources."
David Shirer, cultural resource adviser of the preservation office, agreed that the energy commission failed to follow procedure by not making its own determination of whether the Indian sites are eligible for protection.
Shirer refused to say, however, whether he thought any of the sites are worth protecting. "Our official stance is that it's not our problem . . . It's really the federal agency's call."