SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - State transportation officials have destroyed Native American cultural sites during construction of a Highway 101 bypass in Northern California and failed to develop a plan to protect additional sites as the project moves forward, according to a lawsuit filed Friday by two Native American tribes.
The Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians and Round Valley Indian Tribes say the project near the city of Willits in Mendocino County was undertaken without adequate consultation with Native American groups. They say the project has destroyed an ancestral village site and blocked a salmon passage used by their tribes for centuries.
“Defendants in this case must not be allowed to destroy historic properties, cultural resources, and sacred sites to build the Willits Bypass Project,” the lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco reads.
The California Department of Transportation said in a statement it was following all state and federal historical preservation laws, had avoided all cultural resources identified during development of the project and met with tribes when asked.
This $300 million dollar highway improvement project will relieve congestion, reduce delays, and improve safety for traffic currently passing through Willits, the agency said.
The tribes are calling on a judge to halt the project and award them unspecified damages for the alleged destruction and damage to their historic properties.
The 5.9-mile long bypass would reroute Highway 101 through an area known as Little Lake Valley. The project has been beset by numerous delays and legal challenges from opponents who think the road is unnecessary and too environmentally damaging.
Demonstrators protesting the project staged a tree sit-in two years ago.
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