Red Lake has spiritual significance to Hualapais

When Loretta Jackson speaks of Red Lake, she talks of a unique and spiritual place once inhabited by her ancestors.

"Red Lake is like any historic property in the city or the county," Jackson, the Hualapai tribal historic preservation officer, said.

Close to what is now the Hualapai Reservation, Red Lake is the place where bands of Hualapais came together to hunt and gather and a meeting place where they came together in peace to pray.

"Red Lake is an important area.

There are things you can't touch or see.

There are spirits," she said.

"Whirlwinds dance on Red Lake.

Whirlwinds can by a good deity or a malevolent deity if not prayed to.

These are things ingrained in our beliefs."

The Hualapai Tribe, whose members inhabited the Red Lake area long before Europeans visited, and eventually settled here, left a written history in the form of petroglyphs which can still be seen in the area today.

"This is a traditional cultural place of the Hualapai Tribe, a place that impacts our culture, values, beliefs and identity," Jackson said.

"We want to preserve this cultural site for our children and the rest of the world, so that we can preserve the history.

We are all in this together."

Jackson said the Hualapai Nation is opposed to a proposal to build underground salt caverns to store natural gas in the huge salt mass - more that a mile thick at the center - that sits under Red Lake.

"The Hualapai Nation wants further assessments on the environmental issues," Jackson said.

"We are guaranteed input under the National Energy Policy Act.

We have concerns about the air quality and cultural resources that will be destroyed."

In addition, Jackson said the National Preservation Act states that as a government agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency is required under NEPA to consult with American Indian tribes that attach religious and cultural significance to an area that is affected by a project such as the proposed Red Lake Gas Storage Project.

Jackson said that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has not consulted the tribe as to the cultural and religious significance of the area.

Michelle Harrington is the area conservation coordinator for the Center for Biological Diversity - a national, non-profit watchdog agency dedicated to protecting wetlands - based in Tucson.

Harrington said the center is also concerned with what is happening at Red Lake.

"We want to watch what the government does in following NEPA and other laws that protect the natural environment and protected species," Harrington said.

Harrington said the center needs a copy of the Environmental Impact Study being done on the project to further study the issues.

"If down the road we feel that the regulatory agencies are not doing what they are required to do we would become involved," she said.

Wetlands and riparian areas have been drastically reduced throughout the southwest in recent years.

Dry for part of the year, Red Lake is a playa lake - a lake that temporarily becomes a shallow lake after heavy rains.

"(Playa lakes) serve important functions such as habitat, water storage, water filtration, food production, open space ...

they are basically irreplaceable," Harrington said.

"They often serve an astounding diversity of wildlife, even through they are present for only a few months each year."

Robert Fenwick, of the Red Lake Coalition, a group of local citizens opposed to the project, said once the project to cut into the salt mass is started, the desert would never be the same.

He and other opponents to the project have voiced concerns about the amount of water used for the project and the amount of salt that will injected back into the ground in the making of the salt storage caverns.

Wording in the project application allows for further storage facilities and pipelines in the area, and allows for abandonment of the project at any stage.

Although similar projects have been done in other areas of the country, there has been no project of this magnitude where millions of tons of salt would be injected back into the ground, Fenwick said.

"Why does this have to happen in our community," he said.

"Once the water is gone what will we do in times of drought? We can never get it back."