August 22, 2013

Feds join tribe in lawsuit against Maine

The Penobscot Indian Nation wants to control fishing and hunting rights on the Penobscot River.

By NAOMI SCHALIT and JOHN CHRISTIE Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

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click image to enlarge

In this 2006 file photo, then-Penobscot Tribal Council member James Neptune watches an eagle fly over the Penobscot River in Orono, Maine. The federal government, saying "intervention is not a step the United States takes lightly," has asked a court to allow it to join the Penobscot Indian Nation in its lawsuit against the state over fishing and hunting rights on its ancestral river. (AP Photo/Bangor Daily News, Kevin Bennett)

If Judge George Singal allows the federal government to join the case, it will have company in an already crowded list of participants. Eighteen municipalities and businesses that hold state permits to dump waste into the river, from the towns of East Millinocket and Bucksport to Verso Paper and the Veazie Sewer District, are participating in the lawsuit. They say they're afraid that the Penobscots will try to limit their ability to dump waste if the tribe has regulatory power over the river.

"It is imperative to the permittees that (they) may continue to use those waters unhindered by regulation imposed or sought to be imposed by the Penobscot Nation," they wrote in documents filed with the court.

Before formally intervening in the case, the Justice Department tried to find a way to settle the case, according to a letter sent on Aug. 16 to Attorney General Mills by Ethan Shenkman, a U. S. deputy assistant attorney general.

"As I indicated to you, we remain willing to earnestly pursue alternatives to litigation," wrote Shenkman. "It has become apparent, however, that there is not a realistic short-term prospect of settlement before the United States becomes a party to the case."

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service based in Hallowell. It can be contacted by email at:


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