U.S. Water News Online
PORTLAND, Maine -- Two Indian tribes stunned state
environmental regulators by pulling out of an agreement to end their
longstanding dispute over water quality regulation on tribal lands.
The Penobscot Nation and the Passamaquoddy Tribe said negotiations
had been tainted by meddling paper companies who sued seeking access
to tribal documents in a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The tribes said they were complying with a judge's order to turn
over those documents. Without that distraction, the tribes hope to
resume negotiations over who will regulate water quality on tribal
lands, they said.
Brooke Barnes, deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of
Environmental Protection, was taken by surprise by the turn of
``This is the first time we've heard they're disappointed with the
agreement,'' he said. ``We're completely perplexed and we're
The tribes had been fighting the state's bid to become the sole
overseer of wastewater discharges. The tribes wanted federal
regulators to retain their authority, saying the state was too
lenient with paper companies.
A coalition led by paper companies became involved in a dispute
with the tribes when they sought documents from them to prepare for a
lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency.
The tribes refused to hand over documents, arguing that they were
sovereign nations and not subject to the state Freedom of Access Act.
Tribal leaders were cited for contempt and faced possible jail
time for their refusal to turn over the records. The case made its
way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to intervene.
The tribes were under a deadline for announcing where they would
provide the documents sought by the paper companies. They said the
documents would be made available on May 24 in Augusta.
Penobscot Chief Barry Dana and Passamaquoddy leader Richard Doyle
said it was important to deal with the two issues separately. Now the
tribes can negotiate on the water regulation issue without feeling
pressured, they said.
``We can get a better and stronger agreement that is better for
both sides,'' Doyle said.
Barnes was disappointed.
``It's a real mess and it's sad. There was so much heart and soul
on both the tribe's and the state's part to reach a fair agreement.
... I'm just stunned,'' he said from his office in Augusta.
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