Tribal group plans benefit concert to appeal FERC pipeline process

  • This turtle effigy, an example of a ceremonial stone landscape, is located outside the Otis State Forest area where indigenous tribal artifacts were disturbed.

Recorder Staff
Published: 10/24/2017 8:13:23 PM

When Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. decided to cut across the southwest corner of Massachusetts to build its Connecticut Expansion pipeline from New York, it drew the ire of environmental activists and residents who opposed the taking of preserved old-growth through Otis State Forest.

But it’s the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which gave the company the go-ahead to proceed with its 13-mile, $93 million natural gas storage loop, that now faces a legal challenge from native tribes, which say the federal agency violated federal law by failing to allow them timely participation in the project, resulting in what the tribes say is desecration of dozens of ceremonial stones along the pipeline’s path.

To mount a legal case in the U.S. Court of Appeals, the Indigenous Ceremonial Stone Landscape Protection project has launched a fundraising campaign, with a benefit concert Sunday from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at Shea Theater featuring Pat & Tex LaMountain and a host of other musicians.

The project has raised nearly half its $55,000 goal on the YouCaring crowd-funding website>w 8.9pt<, with the help of Climate Action Now.

‘Where traumatic events took place’

Doug Harris, deputy tribal preservation officer for the Narragansett Indian Tribe, says the ceremonial stones are of religious and cultural significance to the four federally-recognized tribes it collaborated with — Narragansett, Wampanoag of Gayhead-Aquinnah, Pequot and Mohegan — and are “physical manifestations of prayers to Mother Earth, as part of our ancient spiritual tradition (calling for) balance and harmony in places where traumatic events took place.”

These 73 “living prayers in stone” that were identified in Sandisfield should not be moved or altered, he said. Allowing one-third of them to be disassembled and moved to storage with the intention of replacing them later will produce “an artistic replica of something that was spiritual. Once you remove the stones, the ‘spiritual’ is broken.”

The tribal historic preservation office, which is authorized by the National Park Service to help federal, state and local agencies in working with Indian tribes, intervened in FERC’s proceeding on April 9, claiming the agency breached its duty by delaying study of the ceremonial stone landscapes for two years — by which time the pipeline company said FERC had already approved the route, and claimed it was too late to make changes.

The federal agency noted the need to study ceremonial stone landscapes three months after the company’s July 2014 application for the project, but failed to follow up. It approved an environmental assessment and a certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the project before a study of the ceremonial stones was completed on Sept. 30, 2016, according to attorney Anne Marie Garti.

FERC on Dec. 29, 2016 wrote that avoiding all 73 stone landscapes along the right of way was not feasible because of land constraints as well as engineering and cost constraints. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. was told to develop a treatment plan “in consultation with the tribes and FERC to mitigate the adverse effects on the historic property.”

The company contacted a fifth tribe, the Stockbridge-Munsee Community of Mohican Indians, whose area the report said included the survey area, and that tribe broke with the remaining four collaborating with the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office in supporting the proposal to document, dismantle, stockpile and re-assemble stones along the affected right of way.

Douglas said by the time he and other tribal leaders were called to conduct the survey, “They had already made a decision,” and failed to consult with the other tribes on possible alternatives, which could have involved “directional boring” under stones to avoid disturbing them.

Garti said a legal issue in the case — which she plans to file in federal appeals court as soon as FERC rules on the tribes’ May 8 request for a rehearing — is its approving the project “out of sequence,” in March 2016, six months before a survey was completed on the native stones. Another issue was FERC’s failure to consult with the tribes.

“I think we have a very strong case,” Garti said, adding that the impact could be “far-reaching.”

“The tribes were not engaged early in the process, so we could have advised the need for an alternate route,” Harris said.

“Under the National Historic Preservation Act, FERC has the responsibility to consult with us to develop an avoidance plan,” he said. “What we’re stating … is that FERC put the tribes last in the process, not first, where they should have been. They abrogated our right to identify and recommend avoidance procedures to participate in the resolution of adverse effects. They made it clear adverse affects might happen. We should have been allowed to participate in a discussion of alternatives.”

With Tennessee Gas seeking to put its Connecticut Expansion Project in service Nov. 1, filing a legal appeal may appear moot, but Harris explained, it “makes sure that this issue won’t be repeated in the future.”

Saturday’s “Protecting Indigenous Sacred Sites” concert will also include performances by Joe Graveline and Nina Gross, Cathy Sylvester and Joe Pod as well as Orlen & Gabriel and Kathy O’Connor and Rico Spence of Blue Rendezvous.

Another benefit event is planned for Dec. 3 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst, with presentations by Harris and Garti.


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