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EPA Disaster

Damage Done
Related Documents
Take Action


$70,000,000 in Archaeological Site Destruction in Lake County California

Environmental Protection Agency Ignores the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and Bulldozes at least 8,000 Years of Cultural HistoryElem monitor Sandy Thomas inspects human remains

For specific information on the damage done, click on the "Damage Done" leaf at left.

To review the documents concerning this disaster, click on the "Related Documents" leaf at left.

Click on the "Take Action" leaf at left for information on how to let your representatives in Washington know how you feel about the EPA's disregard for historic resources. 

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) request EPA Inspector General to investigate this and other EPA problems with NHPA compliance.  Click on here to see their press release and letter. 

Scan down to see a response from the Society for California Archaeology Executive Board

Between June and October 2006, the EPA decided to proceed with a toxic waste cleanup project on the Elem Indian Colony reservation in Lake County without the benefit of following the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Because they did not complete the required Section 106 archaeological evaluation of the project area, they designed their excavation and construction project oblivious to the fact that immediately beneath the toxic mine tailings were undisturbed historic and prehistoric sites of National Register quality. These sites dated back 8,000 to 12,000 years.

The EPA was not operating totally in the dark with respect to cultural resource knowledge on this project. Throughout the 6 year pre-project planning process, Tribal members and three separate Tribal Chairmen expressed concern about the preservation of the Tribe's cultural heritage and archaeological sites. The earliest letter in the EPA files was written in 2000. In it, Tribal Chairman Jim Brown III states “the entire area (the Elem Reservation and Sulphur Bank Mine) should be deemed an archaeological sensitivity zone and until a comprehensive and adequate cultural resources assessment has been completed, no earthmoving activities should occur within this zone.”

EPA's enabling regulations require that they follow "those cleanup standards, standards of control, and other substantive requirements, criteria, or limitations promulgated under federal environmental or state environmental or facility siting laws (40 CFR 300.5)." This means that the EPA was required to "substantively" follow the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act.

In addition, EPA regulations specify that the EPA, "shall consult with the affected trustees on the appropriate removal action to be taken. The trustees will provide timely advice concerning recommended actions with regard to trustee resources potentially affected (40 CFR 300..310)."

This means that the EPA should have also consulted with BIA archaeologists, the State Office of Historic Preservation, and the Advisory Council before initiating the Elem Cleanup Project. In a recent letter from the Advisory Council to the EPA (Click to see letter 12-11-07), it is made clear that the EPA failed to even substantively comply with the National Historic Preservation Act.

In addition to non-compliance with the NHPA and their own regulations, the EPA also failed to conduct a “Resource Damage Assessment” and restoration plan for cultural resources damaged by their action as required by Title 43 Code of Federal Regulations Part 300.165.

SCA Official Statement Concerning the EPA Disaster

After reviewing all the facts, the Society for California Archaeology Executive Board weighed in on the EPA's failings. Their statement (published in the December 2007 Newsletter) states,

  1. In the first two months of the project, no attempt was made to comply with Section 106 regulations. There was no pre-construction archaeological survey, no sensitivity study, no attempt to identify resources that were eligible or potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and no effort to have in place some sort of formal treatment plan to address potentially significant resources that could be uncovered during construction.

  2. Judging by the photographic evidence submitted by both parties, and archaeological reports by both Dr. Parker and John Holson (Pacific Legacy), a substantial portion of what appears to be an intact deposit was mechanically excavated and removed prior to the hiring of a qualified archaeologist.

  3. The EPA did not begin consultation with the State Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) until the OHP received a complaint from Tribal Administrator Jim Brown III in July of 2006, a month after earth moving activities had started.

The SCA Board lists three main concerns:

  1. The lack of an EPA Cultural Resources Manager anywhere within Region 9, which covers Arizona, California, Nevada, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands, clearly has resulted in a lack of oversight on this and presumably other EPA projects;

  2. The lack of an internal process for complying with Section 106, CERCLA, and other federal laws... has resulted directly in the destruction of at least a portion of what appears to be an important archaeological resource;

  3. The growing trend in the cultural resources management field that tribal consultation is the only component of Section 106 that needs to be followed, that tribal monitoring is the equivalent of or can be conducted in lieu of archaeological study, and that values attributed to cultural resources by tribal groups are the only values those resources have, is clearly resulting in the loss of cultural resources.

    In sum, the SCA Board indicates that

Had the EPA followed Section 106 regulations, damage to this site could have been avoided, resources important both to the tribe and for archaeological research could have been protected, and both the EPA and Elem could have avoided a lawsuit."

"The lack of oversight and a formal process for complying with the law that this project illustrates is glaring, completely avoidable, and needs to be addressed immediately by the EPA."

Click here to see Advisory Council letter asking EPA to explain their activities.

Click here to see the EPAs response to the Advisory Council.

Click here to see the Advisory Council's response to the EPA.

Click here to see Dr. Parker's response to the EPA letter (best to print this and the EPA response together and compare them side-by-side).

Abalone owl pendant found by Elem Tribe Member Ruben Brown immediately beneath contaminated soil Before archaeologist John Parker was called in by the Tribe to evaluate the situation, at least 7,000 cubic meters of cultural soils were destroyed... along with much of the Elem Community's cultural past.


  1. Congress needs to take a serious look at how the EPA does business. If the EPA has somehow found a hole in the National Historic Preservation Act, then that hole needs to be fixed, bringing the EPA back in line with all the other Federal agencies. The atrocity that occurred at the Elem reservation cannot be allowed to ever happen again.

  2. The Elem Community needs to be reimbursed for the loss of their cultural history. The EPA has taken from all of us important information about California's cultural past.

What You Can Do!

Click on the "Take Action" button (above left) and get involved.  It is your government, tell your government how you want your tax money spent!



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Last modified: April 26, 2011