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Morro Bay sewer plan could disrupt tribal burial grounds. Chumash tribe is fighting back

Fred Collins, tribal chairman for the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, is questioning the city of Morro Bay's proposal to build a water reclamation facility pipeline through an area that may contain sacred tribal sites or burial grounds.
Fred Collins, tribal chairman for the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, is questioning the city of Morro Bay's proposal to build a water reclamation facility pipeline through an area that may contain sacred tribal sites or burial grounds. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The city of Morro Bay's proposal to build a water reclamation facility pipeline through an area that may contain sacred tribal sites or burial grounds is the latest in "a long line of disrespectful evaluations of projects," the chairman of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council says.

Fred Collins made his opposition to the proposed water reclamation facility (WRF) project clear in an email to the city that was included in the project's environmental impact report, published Friday. He reiterated his stance Tuesday in a phone interview with The Tribune.

Collins said the city-recommended route, which would cross Morro Creek, shows the city's lack of concern for disrupting tribal burial grounds — concern the city might otherwise show were a predominantly white graveyard involved.

"Tell me where your great-grandmother is buried and let me put a sewer pipe right through the cemetery," Collins said

The chairman also expressed anger at the city's retention of Davis-based Far Western Anthropological Research Group to conduct a cultural resources assessment for the project. The same firm worked with San Luis Obispo County on the Los Osos wastewater treatment plant project.

In a April 12 email to Far Western as part of that assessment, Collins wrote that "we find your work to be divisive and totally out of touch with the First Nations peoples" and urged the city to find a route "that will miss all our Chumash sacred sites."

Morro Bay examined an alternative pipeline route that would run along the Embarcadero. However, that analysis found such a route "would have a greater impact on the kaleidoscope of issues the (environmental impact report) has taken under consideration," such as traffic and noise concerns, said city manager Scott Collins said. (He's not related to tribal chairman Fred Collins.)

Fred Collins dismissed the concerns of greater cost and environmental impact, saying, "That's always been the white man's excuse for the destruction of our sites."

The city of Morro Bay will follow state environmental guidelines "to a T," Scott Collins said, adding that those guidelines will ensure the city handles any uncovered burial remains both sensitively and carefully.

"We understand the concern, and we're going to do everything we can to mitigate the potential impact," the city manager said.

The California Coastal Commission must issue a coastal development permit before the pipeline can undergo construction. Fred Collins said he is confident that the commission will act on his tribe's concerns.

If not, he said, "We do have a legal team and we're prepared to take action."

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler
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