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Williams Northwest did not follow federal guidelines on WSR gas line project

According to Yakama Nation

A project replacing a natural gas line that runs beneath the White Salmon River began this month and as projects near the river are wont to do, this one too has already attracted some controversy.

Last week, a complaint from the Confederated Tribes and Bands Of the Yakama Nation was filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that claimed the company that owns the pipeline, Williams Northwest Pipeline GP, did not follow proper procedures during its environmental and archaeological assessments of the project area.

The section of pipeline that is being replaced is located .7 miles downstream from "The Castle" -- a large Gothic-style residence at 92 Fordyce Rd. -- and is just upstream from Northwestern Lake Road Bridge. The pipeline was buried 16 feet underneath the White Salmon River but has since become exposed due to erosion following the breaching of Condit Dam in October 2011. The project removes about 120 feet of the 26-inch diameter pipeline from the river and places it on an aerial girder span to be built on the eastern bank of the river. Scoping and permitting for the project started early this fall, but the Yakama claim in their complaint that Williams Northwest didn't take them into proper consideration.

"The Yakama Nation cannot concur with the Archaeological Investigations Northwest report because it does not reflect the cultural values attached to the White Salmon River," the complaint reads, which was signed by Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman, Harry Smiskin. "Furthermore, we object to the environmental assessment process within which Williams Northwest Pipeline GP has chosen to follow. It has come to our attention that project alternatives were analyzed within the Williams Northwest Pipeline GP organization without consultation with the Yakama Nation. This is unacceptable and does not follow Federal Energy Regulatory Commission guidelines for consultation with tribes."

The complaint goes on to mention that the project "entails damages" to an archaeological site identified only as "45KL2088" and that the site in question "is significant to the Yakama Nation." Furthermore, the Yakama take umbrage with the fact that the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (located in the northeast corner of the state) were consulted about the project, whom the Yakama maintain in their complaint, "have no legal right or ancestral tie to the area of potential effect."

Michele Swaner, a spokesperson for Williams Northwest, said her company is confused as to what exactly the Yakama are complaining about and maintains that Williams Northwest went through all the proper channels.

"Northwest is constructing the White Salmon River project under its Blanket Certificate authorization granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC)," Swaner explained in an e-mail response to The Enterprise. "Under the Blanket Certificate requirements, Northwest is required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation to ensure the proposed work would not adversely affect wildlife and its habitat and would not affect sensitive cultural resources. We obtained clearances from both these agencies."

Documents on FERC's filing Web site concur with Swaner's statement and show that state and federal agencies agreed with the cultural resource assessment Williams Northwest commissioned from Archaeological Investigations Northwest, Inc., of Portland, Ore. The archaeological site in dispute falls within the project area, but the WDAHP issued a "No Historic Properties Affected" determination.

Swaner declined to mention what or where the archaeological site is exactly, stating that information was "privileged and confidential." She did say Williams Northwest will be conducting archaeological monitoring of the area as a precaution throughout the project, which is scheduled to be completed before the end of the year.

As for the allegations that Williams Northwest did not consult with the Yakama on the project, Swaner said the cultural resource assessment was sent to the Yakama, the Colville, and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. Filed documents only include correspondence with the Colville tribes, which indicated they had no concerns with the project. Swaner said Williams Northwest has been "in frequent communication with the Yakama Nation by telephone, e-mail and letter" since sending the cultural resource assessment and that her company is "continuing to work with the Yakama Nation."

As of press time, Yakama Nation officials had not responded to the multiple requests for comment from The Enterprise.

The Yakama requested in their complaint that Williams Northwest conduct a new environmental assessment, but Swaner said work on the project will continue, uninterrupted.

"The White Salmon River project is on schedule," Swaner said, "and Northwest believes it has acted in good faith in contacting the necessary organizations and in following the regulations required by its Blanket Certificate."


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