The Quoddy Tides

Eastport, Maine

2005 November 11

Suit challenges tribe's lease 

by Marie Jones Holmes

A liquefied natural gas (LNG)-related federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior charging four separate violations of federal law was filed November 2 in U.S. District Court in Bangor. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Nulankeyutomonen Nikihaqmikon (We Protect Our Land), an affiliate of Save Passamaquoddy Bay, a 3-Nation Alliance, and six members of the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy community.

The suit challenges the approval by BIA on June 1, 2005, of the "ground lease" to Quoddy Bay LLC to allow construction of an LNG terminal at Split Rock at Pleasant Point. The Oklahoma-based company signed an $8 million per year land-lease agreement for terminal development at Split Rock in May 2005. A month later the 15-acre land-lease agreement was approved by the BIA.

The suit seeks an order setting aside the Quoddy Bay LLC lease and directing the BIA to comply with all applicable laws. The group's objective is to reopen the lease decision and provide an opportunity for tribal members to vote on whether the project is in the best interest of the community based on environmental and economic information.

Named as defendants in the suit are Robert K. Impson, acting regional director, Eastern Region, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and Gale Norton, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The suit alleges that the BIA violated four federal laws in the process of approving the Quoddy Bay LLC lease. The violations alleged are: BIA failed to conduct an environmental assessment on the impacts of siting a major industrial facility at Split Rock as required by the national Environmental Policy Act; BIA violated the National Historic Preservation Act by failing to consider the historic significance of the Split Rock site; BIA violated the Long Term Leasing Act by failing to consider the impact of the lease on Pleasant Point and failing to ensure that the tribe receives fair market value for the leased lands; and BIA violated the Indian Trust Responsibility by failing to ensure that the lease was in the best interest of the entire Passamaquoddy Tribe.

The lawsuit is being handled by the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School with Director Patrick Parenteau acting as lead attorney.

A day after the November 2 filing of the lawsuit, a group of tribal members and other supporters conducted a press conference and a smudging ceremony at Split Rock. Madonna Soctomah, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and a tribal elder, stated that the BIA has an obligation to protect "our land." She noted that Native Americans are the most heavily regulated people in the United States. "The BIA was negligent when they approved the Split Rock land lease. This whole project has been trying to get rich on the backs of Indian people," stated Soctomah.

Tribal councillor Hilda Lewis, one of two council members who voted against the signing of the lease between Quoddy Bay LLC and the tribal council, said, "I am convinced this is not what we need. People come to work for a short time. It is not economic development." Lewis stated that the BIA responded too quickly. "They didn't even come up here to look at the area."

David Moses Bridges, a member of Nulankeyutomonen Nikihaqmikon, stated, "We Protect Our Land at all costs. This is where we live, only 100 acres." Bridges is concerned that tribal members did not have the opportunity to read the lease. Bridges, who tried to see the lease, says, "They just brushed me off. If the tribal council voted on it they have a responsibility to all the people."

According to Bridges, the tribal council and the BIA rubber stamped the lease agreement. The rest of the tribal members did not have an opportunity to read the lease document, which was signed on May 19 and approved by the BIA on June 1. The public was informed 37 days later, seven days beyond the 30-day period allowed for appeals.

Tribal elder Mary Bassett said even though the LNG project has not begun, it has already caused damage, citing fractures among members of the Passamaquoddy community.

Gracie Davis conducted a smudging ceremony prior to the news conference. During the smudging ceremony at Split Rock, which is considered a sacred site by some members of the tribe, porpoises and loons surfaced out in Passamaquoddy Bay.


© 2005 The Quoddy Tides
Eastport, Maine
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.