Yakama Nation: Gas pipeline will damage site

Tribe calls to protect a culturally significant archaeological area

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YAKIMA -- The Yakama Nation has asked the federal government to halt construction of a natural gas pipeline across southwest Washington's White Salmon River, saying the project will impair an archaeological site that is culturally significant to the tribe.

The line is being built to replace a small section of a 4,000-mile pipeline, from Colorado to the Canadian border, that has been gradually unearthed since Condit Dam was breached on the river last year.

The company building the line, Williams Northwest Pipeline, of Salt Lake City, said Monday that it consulted with state and federal agencies and with three Native American tribes, including the Yakama Nation, before moving forward with the project and believes it has acted in good faith to follow all required regulations.

The Yakama Nation claims otherwise in recent letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The location of the new pipeline sits in the tribe's ceded lands, where tribal members retain the right to hunt, fish and gather roots and berries. Williams Northwest and the federal agency are violating laws that protect historic sites, said Yakama Nation councilwoman Ruth Jim.

The pipeline, about 26 inches in diameter, had been buried below the White Salmon River. When Portland-based utility PacifiCorp breached the dam last year, the stream bed gradually eroded.

At one point, 15 feet of soil cover over the pipeline had washed away, Williams Northwest spokeswoman Michele Swaner said. "We thought, 'We could watch this or we could take some action,'" she said. "So we got the pipeline out of the river."

The company hired an independent consultant to examine the area and identified one archaeological site, Swaner said. The Cowlitz and Colville tribes raised no concerns with the report, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation signed off on the project. However, the latter group sent a letter of concern to the federal agency last week.

Meanwhile, Swaner said the overhead span that will hold the pipeline should be in place next week, and weather permitting, the new line will be tied into the main line before Christmas.