Proposal would put Owens Lake on National Registry

Terrance Vestal
Staff Writer

At its virtual meeting last week, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors agreed to submit a letter of support regarding the creation of a historic district on the Owens Lake to be included in the National Register of Historic Places.
While in general support of the nomination, a combined effort by local tribes and the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, Fifth District Supervisor and board Chairman Matt Kingsley expressed concern about the impact the designation might have on private property located within the proposed district.
The area included for the proposed nomination follows the historic shoreline of the Owens Lake (from about 14,000-years ago), according to county support documents. The extent of the historic district boundary is from the current southern tip of the dry lake on the south and just slightly north of Manzanar Reward Road on the north. On the east it roughly follows highways 190 and 136 and Owenyo Lone Pine Road; to the west U.S. Highway 395.
Phillip L. Kiddoo, air pollution control officer for the GBUAPCD, said the nomination of Owens Lake, known as “Patsiata” in the Paiute and Shoshone languages, is being led by the Patsiata Tribal Oversight Committee, composed of the tribal historic preservation officers of five local tribes with close ties to the lake: the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, the Big Pine Paiute Tribe of Owens Valley, the Fort Independence Indian Community of Paiute Indians and the Bishop Paiute Tribe.
Kiddie said the nomination is being sponsored by the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District with support from California State Lands Commission, the primary landowner.
Kiddoo said GBUAPCD got involved in the archeological district nomination because “it’s the GBUAPCD’s responsibility to protect public health and the environment from the harmful effects of air pollution.”
He pointed out that Owens Lake is the largest source of dust particulates in the nation because of water diversions by LADWP. To abate the “fugitive particulate emissions” at Owens Lake, dust controls are required by the GBUAPCD under the authority of the Clean Air Act. These dust controls are built by LADWP.
In 2014, the California Superior Court decision put an end to two years of litigation between the GBUAPCD and LADWP with several components including a stipulation, agreed to by both parties, that cultural resources would be protected.
“The requirement to construct, operate and maintain dust control measures may impact cultural resources,” Kiddoo said.
Kiddoo related how over time there continued to be disputes between the GBUAPCD and LADWP over missed deadlines and mitigation efforts, which were resolved by the creation of the Cultural Resource Task Force in 2014.
With input from the tribes, landowners and other stakeholders, it became apparent that there needed to be a more comprehensive evaluation of resources rather than the current stopgap measure that looks at projects on a case-by-case basis with only a “piecemeal” understanding of cultural resources located at those project sites.
In July 2017, the GBUAPCD’s governing board adopted a resolution that provided Great Basin staff the approval to take on this initiative.
Ann Logan, deputy air pollution control officer GBUAPCD, said an objective of the GBUAPCD in its support of the nomination effort was to identify significant cultural research sources at a landscape level that are associated with Owens Lake so they could be considered in future planning, project implementation and long-term stewardship.
Logan said the nomination is unique in that it interweaves both the archaeological perspective and the tribal perspective. The work on the nomination has included recording and compiling tribal history from archival sources as well as interviews with tribal elders, and synthesizing all existing archaeological data on and around Owens Lake.
She said the combined nomination effort included TEAM Engineering, on behalf of the GBUAPCD, the California State Lands Commission, the primary landowner, and LADWP, which provided support including the services of Far Western, the utility’s archeological consultants that synthesized the majority of the archaeological data for the nomination.
Through the compilation of the archaeological and tribal information the proposed boundary of the historic district has been determined to include current Owens Lake as well as historic shorelines dating back 14,000 years that are associated with indigenous use, she said.
Part of the nomination process includes the identification of “contributing” and “non-contributing” elements within the boundary, Logan said. Modifications were made to the boundary to exclude “non-contributing elements,” including the communities of Lone Pine, Keeler, Olancha and Cartago.
Logan said 98 percent of the land within the proposed boundaries is public land with approximately two dozen private landowners within the boundary.
All public and private landowners within the boundary have been notified along with other stakeholders, she said. Once the nomination is submitted, the California State Historic Preservation officer will review the nomination and will again notify property owners and solicit further public comment.
Logan said if a majority of the private property owners object to the nomination it may not be listed but it still could be determined as “eligible.” A determination of eligibility has the same implications as being “listed.” An agency version of the nomination will be released so that Inyo county and other agencies that own or manage land within the boundary will have access to information regarding the cultural and historic importance of the historic district. The agency version, which will include both the lists of contributing and non contributing elements should assist and streamline agencies and meeting environmental review requirements.
For property owners, a listing or determination of eligibility does not alone replace any restrictions as to what a property owner can or cannot do, Logan said. But additional review or analysis could be required under the California Environmental Quality Act if the action may cause a significant impact for properties listed on the state or national register.
Logan said listing, or eligibility on the state or national register establishes that the resource is a historical resource and has significance. Depending on the project, this could limit the discretion of an agency to utilize exemptions or negative declarations.
However, she said, the nomination could streamline environmental review and planning for some projects as much of the information and analysis required under CEQA or other existing laws will be completed and will be shared via the agency version of the nomination.
Supervisors also heard from Kathy Jefferson Bancroft, the tribal historic preservation officer of the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, regarding the significance of the Owens Lake both historically and culturally to area tribes.
Supervisors agreed that the cultural and historical significance of the Owens Lake area should be honored and were in favor of sending a letter of support. Kingsley directed staff to include his concerns regarding restrictive impacts on private property, property that is already scarce within Inyo County.