Tribes sue to halt bypass construction on Mendocino County lands

San Francisco Chronicle

Two Northern California Indian tribes sued state and federal transportation officials Friday over construction of a $300 million highway bypass on historic tribal lands in Mendocino County, saying the crews have destroyed archaeological sites, drained wetlands, and violated laws protecting the environment and cultural heritage.

The suit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, seeks to halt construction of the 5.9-mile Willits bypass on U.S. 101 until state and federal agencies conduct a new environmental study and consult with the tribes. It also seeks damages for destruction the tribes said has already occurred, including the remnants of a former Indian village.

“Caltrans’ ground-disturbing activities are devastating ancestral Native American sacred and cultural sites,” said Phil Gregory, lawyer for the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians and the Round Valley Indian Tribes of California.

In response, the state Department of Transportation said the claims were unfounded.

“All state and federal historic preservation laws are being followed,” Caltrans said. “All cultural resources identified during project development were avoided,” and newly discovered cultural areas are “avoided if possible.”

Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie Jr. denied that any Indian village had been destroyed. After tribal representatives told the agency in 2013 that an area already plowed over by work crews had been the site of the Yami Village, he said, they dug beneath the soil and found only “a few pieces of charcoal and a few seeds,” with no signs of a village.

But Gregory said a Caltrans representative had publicly admitted in September 2013 that the agency had dug, drained and filled the site before learning that the village had been located there. The suit includes a photo of tribal members praying at the site... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)

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