On Friday, the BIA gave a group of Passamaquoddy Tribe members the outcome they had battled for in court for the past five years and cancelled the tribe's 50 year lease with an Oklahoma-based company, Quoddy Bay LNG.
The agency's decision follows nearly five years of litigation and efforts by Nulankeyutmonen Nkihtaqmikon, NN, a group of members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe living on the Pleasant Point Reservation in northeastern Maine.
NN was formed to protect their cultural and spiritual traditions from the harmful effects of the proposed LNG terminal on Passamaquoddy Bay on an area of Passamaquoddy land known as Split Rock.
In its decision, BIA cited Quoddy Bay LNG's failure to respond to an earlier notice of lease violation. The tribe decided in June 2009 to terminate the lease. The company now has 30 days to vacate the property or file an appeal with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
"Today's victory is on behalf of our descendants because it is what our ancestors expect from us," said Vera Francis, an organizer with NN. "To value and defend that which has sustained us - Passamaquoddy Bay - is what defines and shapes our future."
Passamaquoddy Bay at low tide looking toward the coast of Maine (Photo by Jonathan Crowe)
Passamaquoddy Bay is an inlet of the Bay of Fundy that lies between the state of Maine and the Canadian province of New Brunswick.
"The health of the bay's unique ecosystems depends upon sound decision-making," Francis said. "Quite unlike many other cultures, ours is a history enlivened by a bay rich in marine life, tides and beauty. We are the original occupants of this land, and it is our responsibility to keep it that way."
"We are celebrating the defeat of Quoddy Bay LNG and the lease cancellation," she said. "Passamaquoddy Bay is an inappropriate location for a liquefied natural gas terminal."
Another of NN's members, Mary Bassett, exclaimed, "Split Rock rests easier today!" She said NN and its supporters will continue their work to protect Passamaquoddy Bay. "All land, all humans, and animal life deserve a healthy environment," she said.
Professor Teresa Clemmer, associate director of the Vermont Law School's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, said BIA's decision to cancel the lease was a testament to the perseverance of far-sighted tribal members and to the hard work of many student clinicians.
On behalf of NN, the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic filed suit in 2005 in U.S. District Court in Bangor, Maine.
"BIA's decision represents a big victory for the long-term interests of the tribe," Clemmer said, "and is a testament to our clients' determination and willingness to hang in there for the long haul."
NN has battled the proposed natural gas terminal on tribal land at Split Rock ever since the BIA's original approval in 2005. They have always maintained that the project threatens the ecological health of Passamaquoddy Bay and would destroy an area important to the tribe's cultural, spiritual and economic lives.
In the lawsuit, NN contended that the BIA approved the lease authorizing the construction of the LNG terminal without complying with the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal environmental and historic protection laws.
Since then, the Law Clinic has been attempting to overcome a series of procedural arguments raised by the U.S. Department of Justice in order to reach the merits of the case.
The Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic also prevailed in a companion lawsuit involving NN's Freedom of Information Act requests for records from BIA. A federal judge in Maine recently ruled that the Bureau of Indian Affairs had violated the law by failing to promptly release the requested documents.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.