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The Quechan Tribal Council would like to inform the membership on the concern with SMP Gold Corp. who submitted an Exploration Plan of Operation to the Bureau of Land Management, (BLM) on September 28, 2020. In the Oro Cruz Exploration Project Environmental Assessment/Mitigated Negative Declaration (“EA/MND”), DOI-BLM-CA-D070-2022-0012-EA, Finding of No Significant Impact (“FONSI”), Decision Record and Plan of Operations, Jennifer Whyte, Field Manager for the El Centro Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) issued the Decision of Record on September `1, 2023. The Tribe received the notice of the final decision on August 31, 2023. When a project is introduced, BLM’s process is to notify the Quechan Cultural Committee to inform them of the of the proposed project and they will conduct their due diligence and correspond with BLM on any concerns and also meet with the Tribal Council on the concerns of any cultural significance with the project and a meeting is set-up with the Tribal Council and BLM to go over those concerns. The Quechan Tribal Council is following the process outlining BLM’s disregard of their own process when approving a project.
The BLM failed to meaningfully consult with the Tribe as required by BLM and Department of Interior (“DOI”) policies as well as the National Historic Preservation Act (“NHPA”). The location of the Oro Cruz Project is part of a cultural, religious, and spiritual landscape that is directly tied to our origin stories, traditions, ceremonies, and cultural patrimony of our people.
On September 13, 2023, the Imperial County Planning Commission, the lead agency for this Project under the California Environmental Quality Act, held a hearing regarding approval of the EA/MND. The Quechan Tribal Council (President Joaquin, Council Members Mc Gee, Smith, Medart, White and Koteen) as well as members of the tribe raised concerns about the impact of the Project on tribal cultural resources. The Tribal Council members stated the government-to-government consultation was inadequate. The Commission stayed determination of the matter until proper consultation between BLM and the Tribe could occur.
On September 29, 2023, the Tribal Council submitted a request for review and a stay of the Oro Cruz Exploration Project Environmental Assessment/Mitigated Negative Declaration (“EA/MND”) DOI-BLM-CA-D070-2022-EA, Finding of No Significant Impact (“FONSI”), Decision of Record and a Plan of Operations. The request was submitted to Karen Mouritsen, California State Director, Bureau of Land Management, California State Office.
On October 25, 2023, the Planning Commission once again held a hearing regarding approval of the EA/MND. Members of the tribe as well as a Council Member (Gloria McGee) were again in attendance to comment on the impact of the Project. The Tribal Council member publicly stated the government-to-government consultation had not taken place and read a letter from President Joaquin into the record requesting they continue consideration of the Project until such consultation could be undertaken, the Planning Commission stayed determination of the matter a second time.
On November 3, 2023, the Quechan Tribal Council had our first government-to-government consultation concerning the Oro Cruz Exploration project with the Bureau of Land Management. At that meeting, BLM El Centro Field Office Associate Field Manager Carrie Sahagun acknowledged that BLM’s previous meetings with the Tribe’s Cultural Committee did not constitute government-to-government consultation and committed to continuing consultation meetings/discussions with the Tribe. Ms. Sahagun also informed the Tribe that BLM State Director Karen Mouritsen was still considering the request that the Tribe filed on September 29, 2023, for review of the El Centro Field Office’s decision to approve the Project.
The Tribe received no further updates until November 21, 2023, when Director Mouritsen California State Director, Bureau of Land Management, California State Office sent a letter declining the Tribe’s request for State Director review and stay of the decision to approve the Project. In doing so, Director Mouritsen did not address any of the Tribe’s substantive arguments as to why a stay was necessary but instead summarily concluded that sufficient consultation with the tribe regarding the Project has taken place. The Quechan Tribal Council filed a Notice of Appeal and Petition for Stay with the Interior Board of Land Appeals (“IBLA”) for the Tribe to preserve its appeal rights. This is the final step in the process to stop the project through the Bureau of Land Management.
On December 13, 2023, Vice-President Hall and Donald Salcedo, Tribal Administrator attended the Planning Committee’s hearing where the Oro Cruz Project was on the agenda yet again. The meeting was also attended by tribal members who commented on their opposition to the project. Vice-President Hall read a letter from President Joaquin and entered it into the record. The Planning Committee stayed determination of the matter for a third time.
On December 18, 2023, the Tribe filed a Notice of Appeal and Petition for Stay with the Bureau of Land Management in accordance with federal regulations, the appeal will then be transmitted by BLM to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, (“IBLA”).
The Tribe is currently waiting for the decision of our Notice of Appeal and Petition for Stay from the Interior Board of Land Appeals (“IBLA”). If our Notice of Appeal and Petition for Stay is denied by IBLA, the Tribe will then take legal action and file a suit against the Bureau of Land Management. It is unfortunate that this will occur, but the Tribe holds this issue vital to protect our lands for the past, present and future. We would also engage our membership to submit testimonials of opposition as well by relaying the importance of the land to for protection for our people traditionally, spiritually and for generations to come.
We will continue to update you when there are significant changes regarding this issue.
Quechan Tribal Council