Ernestine Werelus got tired of hearing she did not own land on the reservation. There were the countless comments that Indians receive free government checks when it actually is money from the lease of her land. The last straw came when a man asked her to sign a lease consent form. When she asked for a higher price, he vowed to go to the BIA, which would lease the tribal land to him. “He said, ‘You don’t own the land anyway,”‘ she said. “It was a personal experience that touched the wrong button.” So, Werelus and her husband, Steve, formed the nonprofit Fort Hall Landowners Alliance. They educate residents about the trust land they own, teaching them to read maps, negotiate lease rates and determine how much they should be receiving. Nearly all tribal members have some land they inherited from their ancestors, most in trust administered by the BIA. Under a deal reached with the BIA last year, the government declined to admit wrongdoing but agreed to pay reservation landowners the $25 an acre instead of the $16 an acre charged the renters. A judge ordered the payments made in January when the BIA failed to meet his deadline for new regulations.
The Fort Hall Tribal Business Council granted a temporary building permit to Astaris to erect a land disposal restrictions building at its plant west of Pocatello on reservation land. The permit was denied by the Tribal Land Use Policy Commission in October. Astaris broke ground for the facility without a permit in December. The temporary permit stipulates that concerns of the commission must be met. The commission had cited a lack of blueprints, failure to obtain a use permit and failure to pay a hazardous waste treatment fee. The council will also require that environmental monitoring and risk assessment results from the Environmental Protection Agency be given to tribal government officials. The Land Use Commission and tribal environmental personnel will be given open access to inspect the plant. The Land Disposal Restrictions Facility is required as part of a 1998 legal decree between the EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice requiring Astaris to treat solid waste according to the Resource Conservation Recovery Act. The plant will eliminate the need for on-site waste ponds, which the company plans to close and clean up by 2007. If the facility is not completed by May 2002, the Astaris plant would be forced to shut down.