On March 27, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe learned it would be receiving approximately $8.4 million as part of a settlement agreement with Alcoa Inc. and Reynolds Metals Company for pollutants released into the St. Lawrence River environment causing damages to the tribe’s cultural area.
The Tribe along with the federal government, and the state of New York announced a $19.4 million settlement with Alcoa Inc. and Reynolds Metals Company for pollutants released into the St. Lawrence River environment.
The settlement, which Alcoa signed in February according to the Associated Press, confirms that the hazardous substances that have been present since at least the late 1950s has injured natural resources, recreational fishing and the Mohawk culture.
“One of the most important aspects of this settlement is to understand the relationship between the environment and Mohawk culture, society and our economy,” said Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Chief Randy Hart. “It’s the most important relationship for any tribe, not just the Mohawks. This settlement gives us the opportunity to restore some facets of that relationship to contemporary Mohawk culture, especially in terms of the relationship between elders and younger community members.”
With the announcement of the settlement came the breakdown of how the funds will be used, with the majority of it going towards the restoration of the St. Lawrence River area. Some $18.5 million will be combined with $1.8 million in restoration funds that came via 2011 General Motors bankruptcy settlement. In total $20.3 million will be designated for restoration.
A restoration plan has been established following the solicitation of restoration project ideas from the natural resources trustees – the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The plan will look to restore the natural and cultural habitat while addressing lost human uses – such as recreational fishing.
Alcoa, Inc. (Alcoa West), Reynolds Metals Company (now Alcoa East) and the former GM Central Foundry plant in Massena, New York, which was adjacent to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe lands, were dumping Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), aluminum, fluoride and cyanide into the river adversely impacting the environment and the area used for traditional cultural practices.
“This settlement addresses not only natural resource damages, but harm suffered by the Mohawk Akwesasne community as well,” said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. “Although we can’t turn back the clock, the trustees worked hard to ensure that this settlement improves environmental quality, enhances public access for recreational fishing and supports traditional Mohawk cultural practices.”
Of the $20.3 million, the tribe will receive approximately $8.4 million that will go towards supporting cultural practices, including apprenticeship programs to promote the Mohawk language and traditional teachings. A portion of the funds will go to cultural institutions, including youth outdoor education programs and horticultural programs for medicine, healing and nutrition. More than $10 million of the funds will be used at restoring a variety of ecological areas, including wetlands, streambanks, native grasslands, bird nesting and roosting habitats, fisheries and fish habitats; along with acquisition of areas under threat of development. Nearly $2 million will be used to upgrade two boat launches on the Raquette River and construction of three new launches on the Grasse River.
“This innovative settlement will restore resources that have been essential to the Mohawk community of Akwesasne for countless years, but that suffered in the twentieth century from decades of toxic contamination that degraded natural resources used for traditional cultural practices,” said U.S. Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division, Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno. “That’s why some of the funds will support traditional Mohawk cultural and language programs, youth programs, and other efforts that support health, healing, and nutrition.”
The four trustees are also to be paid for outstanding past costs to assess impacts and damages. The trustees will be holding informational public meetings in April. The first one will be April 17 at the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe Office for the Aging Senior’s Dining Hall, 29 Business Park Road, Akwesasne. The second will be April 18 at Dar’s Place Banquet Hall, Quality Inn?10 W Orvis St.?Massena. Both meetings will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
A Federal Register notice for the St. Lawrence Environment Restoration Compensation and Determination Plan will appear shortly and a separate Federal Register notice of lodging of the Alcoa/Reynolds Consent Decree will appear about a week later. There will be a 30-day public comment period on both notices and the public can provide comments on either or both.
“This is a positive step to bring resolution to the natural resources damages assessment process, and is a win for the community,” Lori Lecker, an Alcoa spokeswoman, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg.com. “Alcoa will undertake several ecological and cultural restoration projects, including purchasing approximately 465 acres that will become part of the Coles Creek State Park and Wilson Hill Wildlife Management Area.”