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Tribes, city say they are open to discussing EPA ruling; no talk set

Feb 19, 2014 - From staff reports

The Northern Arapaho Tribe last week requested that the Environmental Protection Agency stay a recent decision redefining the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation so that local governments can discuss the implications of the ruling.

In response, the EPA on Friday decided to stay portions of its ruling to give local governments a chance to discuss implications of the decision. However, no meetings had been organized between tribal leaders and the City of Riverton as of Wednesday

afternoon.

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

Soon after the decision was announced, the Northern Arapaho Tribe sent a letter to Riverton officials to initiate a discussion about effects of the ruling. In the Dec. 9 letter, Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Darrell O'Neal said the decision confirms "our long standing conclusion that the city of Riverton is situated within the reservation."

He said he wants to dispel notions that Riverton's location within the reservation would affect the city or its residents in some negative way.

"We would like to meet and discuss these matters and any other concerns you may have that arise from the recent EPA decision," he wrote.

Mayor Ron Warpness responded one week later, welcoming the opportunity to meet with tribal leaders.

"It has always been my personal position that the city of Riverton at all times welcomes the opportunity to sit down and discuss issues of a mutual nature with the tribes," Warpness wrote. "While we may not agree on the issue at hand, the opportunity to get to know each other better is at the very least a good outcome."

Warpness offered use of the Riverton City Council chambers for a meeting, and he said he would be willing to travel to a spot on the reservation as well.

Later in the letter, he said he does not want to discuss solutions to the EPA ruling until it has been finalized.

This week, city officials said they have not heard back from O'Neal since they received his Dec. 9 letter. Warpness last week expressed frustration about the lack of communication; he said he met with tribal leaders just before the EPA announced its decision, but the reservation boundary topic did not come up.

"I just want this issue to calm down with the facts," he said.

Warpness thinks the tribes could have initiated conversations with local governments before the EPA made its ruling.

The state on Friday filed an appeal of the EPA's December decision in the U.S. 10th Circuit Court. In a press release regarding the appeal, Gov. Matt Mead said, "I firmly believe that a decision of this significance should not come from a regulatory agency, especially when it goes against over 100 years of history, law and practice."

Northern Arapaho Tribe spokesman Mark Howell said Friday that his group is "quite pleased" with the move, which will bring all parties involved into mediation required through the 10th Circuit Court.

-- Staff writer Alejandra Silva contributed to this report.