Pueblos demand input on LANL power line development through sacred site

By: - January 4, 2022 6:00 am

A map shows proposals to build a power line from Caja Del Rio to the Los Alamos National Laboratories. (Photo via LANL)

Pueblo leaders are asking the federal government for an extension to evaluate plans to develop a power line through a sacred cultural site in the Santa Fe National Forest.

The All Pueblo Council of Governors wrote to the Department of Energy saying tribes were not fully consulted on the plans to build a 12.5 mile, 115-Kilovolt power transmission line across Caja Del Rio

“Since time immemorial, our people have occupied and ecologically stewarded extensive areas of New Mexico including the 107,068-acre plateau now known as the Caja Del Rio,” said Wilfred Herrera Jr., chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors. 

The effort is part of the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s proposed Electrical Power Capacity Project and would be established in Caja Del Rio through the White Rock Canyon and onto Los Alamos National Laboratory, according to the proposal.

The 30-day public comment on the proposal opened April 30, 2021. Due to pandemic restrictions, which included full closures of Pueblo communities and events, tribal leaders say they were unable to complete their own assessment required under National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act. 

Pueblo leadership wants the federal government to comply with the requirements and allow tribal input before an environmental assessment of the project is released. 

They also argue much of the cultural landscape at Caja Del Rio could potentially have greater protections as Traditional Cultural Property under the National Register of Historic Places.

“Our ancestors’ migration and our continuous occupation and religious use of the Caja Del Rio has resulted in a dense concentration of Pueblo cultural resources and a vast, multi-layered living cultural landscape consisting of separate overlapping cultural landscapes for individual Pueblos and Tribes,” Herrera said.

Federal agencies have yet to respond to the letter that was submitted last month..

Herrera (Laguna) said Caja Del Rio holds thousands of sacred sites, housing structures, ceremonial kivas, petroglyphs and ancient irrigation systems that need evaluation to see if they are eligible for more protections.

“Many Pueblos maintain a historic, ongoing, and significant cultural connection to the Caja Del Rio cultural landscape, including through story, song, prayer, hunting, medicine gathering and pilgrimage,” he said. 

The Los Alamos National Laboratories’ proposal indicates the additional power line is required because existing infrastructure has reached capacity. The labs need “higher capacity electrical power that is reliable and redundant to meet LANL’s increasing power demand for current and future national security missions,” according to the proposal.

In the letter, Herrera also notes that longstanding federal blunders led to desecration of sacred sites in Caja Del Rio, and the power line proposal is another step to continuing that legacy of mismanagement. The inclusion of tribal consultation in the plan, and assessment of the sacred site, is instrumental to a better legacy, he argues.

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.