Possible pipeline alignments

Arizona Daily Star

The Tohono O'odham Nation is taking action to officially oppose a proposed pipeline project in the Altar Valley.

The Sierrita Pipeline, a Kinder Morgan project, calls for 59 miles of 36-inch pipe to deliver natural gas from existing pipes in Tucson, south through the Altar Valley next to the Tohono O'odham Nation and to the Mexico border.

The project could harm up to 60 "sacred and significant" cultural resource sites, including Baboquivari Peak, village sites, trash mounds and quarries, according to a resolution approved by the Tohono O'odham Legislative Council and signed by Chairman Ned Norris Jr. earlier this month.

The pipeline would come within five miles of the reservation boundary at some points and within a few miles of Baboquivari Peak, Tohono O'odham Attorney General Jonathan Jantzen wrote in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week.

The commission has authority to approve the project through an 18-month process governed by five commissioners appointed by the president.

"Placement of the pipeline this close to the Nation's lands concerns the Nation because it degrades the traditional cultural and natural landscapes of the Altar Valley," Jantzen wrote to the commission.

"The pipeline placement and the accompanying service road will permanently scar the landscape, thereby degrading the cultural and natural landscape of the Altar Valley."

Most of the sites are prehistoric Hohokam sites, including at least three large Hohokam villages that likely include ancestral burial sites, said Peter Steere, tribal historic preservation officer.

The tribe wants to maintain the valley, which was part of its traditional homeland, he said.

"The land has aspects of natural history and aspects of cultural history that are rolled together," Steere said.

Included in that is the tribe's creation story, which centers around Baboquivari Peak.

The road would also "inevitably become a route for drug smugglers and undocumented border crossers," which happened on another pipeline service road on the west side of the tribe's reservation lands, Jantzen said.

Among the other groups opposed to the project is Pima County.

"Pima County supports the Nation's position that the integrity of this sacred landscape not be compromised," County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry wrote to the Commission.

Damage to the environment around Baboquivari Peak would threaten the tribe's ability to maintain its cultural identity, he said.

The company has had meetings with tribal officials and acknowledges in a report that Baboquivari Peak "has special religious significance to members of the Tohono O'odham Nation."

In another report, the company acknowledges "the planned developments would likely cross areas of archaeological significance."

The report says the company will avoid archaeological sites by setting up 50-foot buffers around them, but some buffer zones may be less than 50 feet wide. Fencing would be put up to avoid accidental impacts and archaeologists would monitor impacts of construction on some sites.

A dozen sites would be directly affected by construction or road widening, the report states.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at bpallack@azstarnet.com or 573-4346. On Twitter @BeckyPallack