CCWD Refutes Allegations of Discrimination by Calaveras Band of Mi-Wuk Indians

On August 22, 2019, the Calaveras Enterprise published an article that included accusations that the Calaveras County Water District (CCWD) discriminated against the Calaveras Band of Mi-Wuk Indians (Tribe) when CCWD declined to hire the Tribe for cultural resources monitoring services on the Reach 1 Pipeline Replacement Project currently under construction on Hwy 4. The District categorically denies these accusations, which are based on demonstrably false allegations.

The District is disappointed that the Enterprise violated basic principles of journalism by failing to verify the allegations and neglecting to give CCWD an opportunity to respond prior to publishing its article. Had the Enterprise sought comment, CCWD would have asked it to review the recording of the CCWD Board meeting on which the article focuses. Although an Enterprise reporter was present at the meeting, a closer review would have revealed that the allegations made by the Tribe were not accurate.  Public documents also prove that the article’s allegations that CCWD improperly excluded the Tribe from the project are not accurate.

After the Enterprise published its article, CCWD immediately contacted the paper to notify it of the inaccuracies in the article. CCWD provided the Enterprise with evidence refuting the Tribe’s allegations. The Enterprise, however, has refused to print a retraction of its article. CCWD is therefore providing this factual overview of the events that occurred in order to correct the public record.

The Tribe’s allegations arise from CCWD’s Reach 1 Pipeline Replacement Project, which will replace about 4.5 miles of 12-inch water transmission pipeline between Avery and Forest Meadows. In 2017, the District hired ECORP Consulting, Inc. to prepare a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) mitigated negative declaration (MND), including an initial study of cultural resources along the proposed pipeline alignment. As part of this initial study, ECORP consulted with the Tribe and did a job walk with a tribal representative. The Tribe did not provide any cultural resources comments to ECORP during the survey of the alignment. At a later date, CCWD’s consultants worked with the Tribe to identify and study an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) near a portion of the project, which led the District to move the pipeline alignment to avoid potential impacts to tribal cultural resources.  As the practice has been with certain other capital improvement projects over the years, CCWD compensated the Tribe for its role in these efforts to protect cultural resources.

In May 2018, CCWD released a draft MND for public review and complied with all CEQA noticing requirements, including posting notices at the County, posting it on the CCWD website, providing it to the State Clearinghouse, and publishing a notice in the Calaveras Enterprise before the project was approved by the Board of Directors at a publicly agendized meeting. CCWD was not required to provide a copy of the draft report directly to the Tribe and the Tribe did not request to be notified (click here for more information on the consultation process). The MND advised that no tribal monitoring was necessary, and the Tribe did not submit any comments on the MND. In June 2018, the draft MND was unanimously approved by the CCWD Board of Directors at a public meeting.

Shortly before the July 2019 groundbreaking on the project, the Tribe voiced previously undisclosed cultural resources concerns and informed the District that it intended to perform cultural resources monitoring on the project. CCWD had already hired Dudek, an environmental consultant, to provide professional archeological and cultural resources monitoring on the project. Since Dudek’s services would satisfy CCWD’s requirement to protect cultural resources, the District could not justify the expense of additional monitoring from the Tribe (for which the Tribe would have charged at least $18,000). CCWD therefore refused the Tribe’s demand for monitoring.

The Tribe objected to this decision and began voluntarily sending tribal members to monitor the Reach 1 Project. The District had no objection to the Tribe’s participation, but it also had no obligation to pay the Tribe for its presence. Although a number of potential artifacts were identified by Dudek’s professional archeologists and tribal members, none were deemed to be eligible for cataloging in the California Register of Historical Resources (CRHR). Contrary to assertions in the Enterprise article, there is no evidence that any cultural resources have been harmed during construction.

In mid-August 2019, tribal members requested that CCWD put them on the agenda at a public Board of Directors meeting. This request was granted, and members of the Tribe were provided an opportunity to address the Board directly and to voice their concerns publicly. The discussion lasted more than one hour (click here to watch the meeting video ), and at no time did tribal members accuse CCWD of discrimination. Rather, they discussed the good working relationship the Tribe had had with CCWD and affirmed that CCWD was not to blame for the alleged miscommunications. During the public meeting and during a discussion after the meeting, CCWD’s general manager and Debra Grimes, representing the Tribe, reaffirmed their commitment to work together to ensure a positive working relationship between the Tribe and CCWD.  Contrary to claims in the Enterprise article, the relationship between CCWD and the Tribe has not “soured” since CCWD hired Michael Minkler as its general manager in February 2019. The majority of the Reach 1 project requirements were met by 2018, long before Minkler was hired.  Minkler had no involvement with this matter until July 2019.

The District takes its legal responsibility to consult with the Tribe very seriously. As the Reach 1 Project moves forward, if a state or federal agency informs CCWD of a requirement for tribal monitoring, the District will be ready and willing to work with the Tribe on an agreement for services for portions of the remaining project. Until and unless the Tribe’s services are required, however, the District is compelled to keep the costs of the project to a minimum. The District looks forward to continuing to work closely with the Tribe to protect cultural resources during infrastructure projects.

For more information, contact Joel Metzger, external affairs manager, at joelm@ccwd.org or (209) 754-3123.

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