Viejas calls on District to negotiate in good faith to protect newly discovered Native American burial ground
By Miriam Raftery
June 24, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) – A preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for Friday in San Diego Superior Court has been postponed to July 23, under an agreement reached between Padre Dam Municipal Water District and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.
“Viejas only agreed to the postponement after the District agreed to stop all construction on the entire site, which is what Viejas was seeking at Friday’s hearing,” said Robert Scheid, spokesman for Viejas. “Up to this point, the District’s actions have been counter-productive to all parties involved, and costly to their ratepayers. And now those actions have brought threatened legal action from the California Attorney General’s office, which would create even more unnecessary costs for their ratepayers.”
Padre Dam proceeded with the project despite advice from experts who warned in 2007 that the site was likely to include significant cultural artifacts and Native American remains. What might have given Padre officials a clue early on that such a finding was likely? A circle of rocks on the site, for starters--the medicine wheel symbol traditionally found at Native American sacred burial grounds and ceremonial sites.
“Padre Dam looks forward to an unbiased and fair review of the facts and circumstances,” said Doug Wilson, general manager of the District. “The District has followed the law, worked with the Native American Community and done more than required to protect the cultural resources on the site and we hope the court will agree with our plan to balance the cultural resource issues with the urgent need for the critical project.”
Padre contends that the site is the only available option for upgrading an aging water delivery system to the backcountry to assure adequate water pressure and supply for fighting fires as well as daily needs. The proposed project near Lake Jennings would include water storage, pipelines and pumping capacity. Padre has declined to reveal what other sites were considered but has stated that other property owners were not willing to sell their land back in 2006, when the project was initially planned. Moving the project to a new site, if land could be found, could cost up to $10-12 million, the district claims.
Following discovery of an ancient burial ground and artifacts on the site in February, Viejas filed a lawsuit against the District after negotiations failed to persuade Padre to conduct a full site assessment or find an alternative that would assure protection of all ancestral remains on the property.
Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes issued a temporary restraining order earlier this month on a portion of the project where human remains were found. Last week, the state’s Native American Heritage Commission broadened that order and asked Padre to halt construction on the entire site pending full assessment and mitigation. Padre refused to comply and continued bulldozing and removing earth, as ECM revealed with a video, stopping only after receiving a June 21 letter from California Attorney General Jerry Brown. Brown warned that his office would file a lawsuit against the District if it refused to abide by the Commission’s request.
Viejas has repeatedly asked Padre to conduct a full assessment on 100% of the site, or find an alternative location, but the District has refused. The District instead has taken samples from several areas totalling about 6% of the site, and contends it has abided by the law.
Options range from mediation at the existing site to preserve sanctified remains (such as constructing around remains once a full assessment is done, or building a raised above-ground project) to finding an alternative site. Viejas, which would benefit from the project by receiving water to meet tribal needs, has repeatedly said that the tribe does not oppose the project, but does have a duty to protect the sanctity of an ancestral burial ground and archaeological site described by one expert as “unparalleled” in the San Diego region.
At a meeting of Padre's directors Tuesday, prominent community leaders spoke in favor of Viejas, urging the district to be respectful of tribal leader's concerns and Native American remains, as ECM reported.
In response to Padre's announcement yesterday that it will halt construction and postpone the hearing to July 23, Viejas' representative Scheid concluded, “It’s time for the District to finally do the right thing: negotiate in good faith with Viejas to find an alternative plan that allows the project to proceed while protecting and preserving this important, sacred Native American burial and ceremonial ground.”