AKWESASNE — A $20 million settlement may remedy nearly 60 years of environmental pollution to the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.
Alcoa Inc. and Reynolds Metals Co. agreed to pay $18.5 million for having released hazardous material into the St. Lawrence River since the late 1950s, which took a toll on natural resources, recreational fishing and the Mohawk culture.
The money will be added to $1.8 million awarded in the General Motors bankruptcy settlement in 2011.
Public meetings to review restoration plans developed by a panel of trustees will be held next month in Akwesasne and Massena.
“One of the most important aspects of this settlement is to understand the relationship between the environment and Mohawk culture, society and our economy,” St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council Chief Randy Hart said in a news release.
“It’s the most important relationship for any tribe, not just the Mohawks. This settlement gives us the opportunity to restore some facets of that relationship to contemporary Mohawk culture, especially in terms of the relationship between elders and younger community members.”
Alcoa, Reynolds Metals and General Motors released hazardous materials, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), aluminum, fluoride and cyanide, into the St. Lawrence for years, which, in turn, damaged the environment and contaminated the Mohawk community, according to the release.
The pollution “degraded natural resources used for traditional cultural practices,” the release states.
“Today’s settlement will increase public access to fishing, protect wildlife and help restore the health and economic vitality of the St. Lawrence River and its tributaries,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.
“It will also help the Akwesasne Mohawk community to restore cultural practices that have suffered as a result of these companies’ pollution,” he said.
“My office will continue to hold those who damage New York’s environment and threaten our economy accountable for their actions.”
Laurie Marr, communications and public-affairs manager for Alcoa’s Massena Operations, said the company will make recreational improvements as part of the settlement.
Alcoa will purchase about 465 acres of land that will become part of Coles Creek State Park and the Wilson Hill Wildlife Management Area, two popular fishing spots along the St. Lawrence.
The company is also building new fishing piers, boat ramps and parking areas in Massena, Madrid and Louisville, she said.
“This is a positive step to bring resolution to the natural-resource damages assessment process and is a win for the community,” Marr said in an email to the Press-Republican.
“We appreciate the involvement and support of community leaders in achieving this resolution.”
Four trustees developed the proposed restoration plan, with representatives from the tribe, U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
They collected ideas and suggest the funds be used to:
▶ Create an apprenticeship program to promote the Mohawk language and traditional teachings and support cultural institutions, existing youth outdoor-education programs and horticulture programs for medicine, healing and nutrition. ($8.4 million).
▶ Support ecological-restoration projects and enhancement of wetlands, stream banks, native grasslands, bird-nesting and -roosting habitat, fisheries and fish habitat and acquisition of unique habitat under threat of development. ($10 million).
▶ Develop and upgrade two boat launches on the Raquette River and build three new launches on the Grasse River to improve fishing and boating to rivers in the Massena area. ($2 million).
Informational meetings on the proposed plan are set for 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at the St. Regis Mohawk Office for the Aging in Akwesasne and 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 18, at Quality Inn in Massena.
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See the details of the settlement and the restoration plans at: