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Tribe takes advice of former mayor, asks that EPA ruling be delayed

Feb 11, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

The Northern Arapaho Tribe has joined the state of Wyoming in requesting that the Environmental Protection Agency stay its recent ruling redefining the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

The EPA in December approved the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes' request for Treatment as a State through the federal Clean Air Act. As part of the decision, the EPA said a 1905 Congressional Act opening tribal land - including the city of Riverton - to homesteading did not diminish the reservation boundary.

On Jan. 6, Wyoming filed a petition requesting the EPA reconsider the ruling, which was made based on "incomplete facts and faulty legal conclusions," according to Gov. Matt Mead. The petition also asks for a stay of any implementation of the EPA ruling until a final judicial decision has been issued. EPA officials on Tuesday said they are still considering and evaluating the state's request.

In his Thursday letter to the EPA, Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Darrell O'Neal said he still believes the state's request should be denied "on the merits." But he said implementation of the EPA decision should be delayed until local governments have a chance to discuss jurisdictional implications.

"(We) support a stay by the EPA for the sole purpose of allowing our community to engage in reasoned discussions about genuine issues and to calm the storm created by the governor," O'Neal wrote.

The state's petition included "unfounded predictions" that have created "fear and distrust in the non-Indian community," he continued.

Because of impressions created by the state petition, "for example, the tribe and tribal members are accused of 'setting criminals free' or 'evicting' non-Indians from their homes," O'Neal said. "Although nonsense, these are having a real impact on our communities. Tribal members are encountering increased hostility toward them and their children, sometime sin public, sometimes on the schoolyard. For the safety and harmony of everyone, we want to minimize these effects."

He requested that the EPA approve a stay while also reserving the legal rights of the tribes and other affected governments.

"No stay should delay or restrict federal funding sought by the tribes in their TAS application," O'Neal wrote.

Vincent involvement

The tribe's letter came at the request of former Riverton Mayor John Vincent, who wrote to O'Neal on Jan. 28.

In his note, Vincent proposed a meeting between tribal representatives and Riverton community leaders to begin discussing the EPA decision. But he said a constructive discussion will be difficult "in the atmosphere caused by the unfortunate stance taken by the state."

"Wyoming's request for a stay identifies a series of dire consequences for city government and residents as a result of the EPA decision," Vincent wrote. "It appears that most of these predicted problems have no basis in reality at all."R32;Local residents are concerned about the impacts of the EPA ruling on criminal jurisdiction and land ownership, for example, but Vincent believes many of their fears are based on the "groundless or greatly exaggerated claims" made by the state.

"The perceived threat of peril by many in Riverton, however groundless, stands in the way of reasonable discussion and rational action," Vincent said. "Therefore, I would ask the tribe to consider agreeing to a stay of the EPA decision for the purpose of creating 'breathing room' and allowing time to work together to reach solutions for all of us."

He acknowledged previous collaborative efforts between Riverton and the Northern Arapaho Tribe, including an attempt several years ago to sign a memorandum of understanding agreeing to communicate and cooperate on matters of mutual concern. The memorandum later was withdrawn and was not signed.

The two entities approved a specific land use plan for the city, Vincent said, and they reached a water line licensing agreement for the benefit of city residents. In addition, Riverton's city engineer helped with the construction of the Wind River Casino south of town.

"I know that the tribe has been rebuffed often in such efforts," Vincent said. "But, I believe in my heart that we can achieve great things when we try, and maybe now is a good time to try again."