By Deb Murphy
For the second time in as many months, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors and area Tribal leaders made little progress in developing a protocol for consultation on issues impacting county reservations.
Resolution of a draft policy, developed by the County’s Planning Department, was postponed from the Sept. 15 board meeting and now will be on the Dec. 15 agenda. Last month, tribal representatives said they didn’t have time to go over the policy. This month, only representatives from Bishop and Lone Pine attended, explaining that other area tribal leaders were attending week-long meetings out of the area.
The issue runs deeper than the definition of “consultation.” “You don’t see us on the inside,” said Raymond Andrews, tribal historic preservation officer for the Bishop Paiute Tribe. “We don’t look at (the policy) through your eyes.”
Consultation on general or specific plans and projects requiring environmental documentation is state law. The recently passed Assembly Bill 52 calls for consultation between the lead agency on California Environmental Quality Act projects to identify and evaluate the significance of impacts to tribal cultural resources.
Planning Director Josh Hart’s draft goes beyond the legal requirements, but that didn’t seem to impress tribal leaders who wanted to be in on the ground floor in developing a consultation policy.
What tribal representatives want is consultation with elected county officials with staff present but not necessarily guiding the discussion. That would be tricky with Brown Act restrictions, but Andrews offered a suggestion. “What other communities have done is have two supervisors and two (tribal leaders)” on a rotating basis do the consulting. “If we sit down and look at how rotation works, we can jump over the hurdles together.”
Kathy Bacoch with the Lone Pine tribe also wanted board members to “just sit down” with tribal leaders. “We can come up with something we can agree on. We feel like we’re not being heard.”
County Administrative Office Kevin Carunchio pointed out that public Board meetings were “the ultimate working group.” But, after the meeting, Bacoch and Andrews expressed discomfort with discussions taking place during a public meeting.
In an effort to continue the dialogue and come up with a viable policy, the County will forward an unprotected document to tribal representatives to encourage editing or re-writing the policy, area tribes will submit comments to the Board Chair, Matt Kingsley and come together at the Dec. 15 Board meeting.
In other action, the Board approved additional funds to the tune of $20,000 for two consultants working under contract to Inyo County on analysis of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on groundwater impacts of the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository. The Department of Energy has extended the comment period on the SEIS, requiring the consultants to put in more hours. The funding source is a trust set up by the DOE provided to Affected Units of Local Government.
Ironically, the request came just two days after a closed low-level hazardous waste site just eight miles south of Beatty, Nev. caught fire, closing a 149-mile stretch of U.S. Hwy. 95. According to an Associated Press report, “radiation wasn’t immediately detected during fly-overs…. Ground testing is scheduled next.”
The waste dump consists of 22 trenches up to 800 feet long and 50 feet deep. AP reported that U.S. Geological Survey studies in 1994 and 1998 found tritium more than 350 feet below ground and carbon14 more than 110 feet below ground. The site, in the Amargosa River watershed, has been closed since 1992.
Supervisors also approved a draft letter in support of the process of identifying potential Wilderness Areas during the Inyo National Forest Plan Revision process. The letter states that the County found the process “logical and technically sound.” Representatives from Friends of the Inyo agreed. “It’s not a perfect process,” said Jora Fogg, “but we support the work being done.”
Supervisor Jeff Griffiths stressed that, despite a headline in the local newspaper, the letter of support did not extend to the choice of additional Wilderness Areas. “We’re not talking about the lands, just about the process,” he said.
Comments on the potential new areas, in the Glass Mountains, Deep Springs South and Deep Springs North areas and potential additions to the South Sierra Wilderness and two additions to the White Mountain Wilderness, will come when the National Environmental Policy Act analysis is completed in late winter or early spring of 2016.