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Historic Listing Worries Rattlesnake Mountain Ranchers

June 20, 2008

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.

Jun. 20–The Department of Energy has determined that its Rattlesnake Mountain land is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places because of its tribal history.

But after facing a riled-up crowd at a Prosser meeting this week, it has decided to produce a third version of a registration form to resubmit to the Washington State Preservation Office. About 35 people attended the meeting, mostly ranchers on or near Rattlesnake Mountain, plus Benton County Commissioner Max Benitz and staff of Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.

Ranchers are concerned that information already sent to the state includes a map of Laliik, land sacred to the tribes on Rattlesnake Mountain, that shows the designated area including a wide circle of private land, plus some DOE land that’s part of the Hanford nuclear reservation.

“The large area designated traditional cultural property conveys special status to private property,” said landowner Larry Olsen.

Ranchers are concerned the map of Laliik will open the door to archaeological or other restrictions on how they use their property or any changes to it, such as modifying ditches or adding structures.

Earlier this year, DOE told about a dozen agencies with communication towers and a nonprofit observatory on the top of Rattlesnake Mountain that it wants all manmade structures removed, although it later clarified that they would not be evicted immediately. It’s a move that was applauded by tribes that traditionally have used the mountain top and consider it sacred.

The issue of eligibility for the National Register is unrelated, according to DOE.

DOE has treated the land atop the mountain that’s part of the security perimeter around Hanford as eligible for the National Register for a decade, said Pete Garcia, DOE director of the safety and engineering division at the Richland Operations Office. Under the National Historic Preservation Act, federal agencies must take into account the effect of actions on any property eligible for the National Register, he said.

The eligibility determination became an issue as DOE prepared to do work that would disturb dirt near the Rattlesnake Barricade on the only small piece of DOE land on Rattlesnake Mountain side of Highway 240 that has not been preserved as part of the Hanford Reach National Monument, according to DOE.

The state requested then that DOE formalize its policy that Rattlesnake Mountain is eligible for the National Register. As part of that process, DOE was legally required to ask tribes what part of the mountain they considered to have cultural or religious significance.

The Yakama Nation responded that for at least the past 13,000 years, Laliik has been important to its people’s religion and traditions and continues to be important to its heritage. The Yakamas drew the boundary to include not only the top of Rattlesnake Mountain, but also more private land than DOE land.

The Yakamas’ proposed boundaries include Highway 240 to the east, the Dry Creek drainage to the north and the 1,200-foot contour line of the mountain to the west. The southern boundary is more difficult to describe, but the area map showed its boundary north of Prosser around the 1,200-foot contour line.

DOE notified some but not all of the property owners on Rattlesnake last fall that the Laliik boundary proposed by the Yakamas “may extend into your properties.”

Wednesday night, ranchers were shown a revised registration form for the National Register that clarified that DOE’s determination of National Register eligibility applied only to DOE land.

However, Benitz told DOE that it had not followed federal law requiring public and local government input before making a determination of eligibility.

“This is taking away private property rights,” he said.

DOE will work with the state to see if it can revise the Laliik map to show only the DOE land it includes, among other changes, Doug Shoop, deputy manager of DOE’s Hanford Richland Operations Office, told those at the meeting. He also agreed to work with Benitz and show him the state letter before it is resubmitted.

“We did make some progress,” Olsen said after the meeting. “The department did indicate some willingness to address the property owners’ concerns.”

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Copyright (c) 2008, Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.

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