, 2000

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JUNE 7, 1999  4:33 PM
Sierra Club
Carl Custalow, 804 769 4508
Glen Besa, 804 225 9113
Lee Murphy, 202-675-6276
Mattaponi Indians And River Win A Battle In Fight Against Reservoir
WASHINGTON - June 7 - The Mattaponi Indians of Virginia won a major victory in the five-year battle against the City of Newport News' proposed King William Reservoir on Friday when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a preliminary decision to deny the permit to build the reservoir. The Sierra Club, which has supported the tribe's efforts, hailed the decision as a major victory for the environment.

This decision follows a highly contentious battle which pitted the Native American descendants of Pocahontas against the City of Newport News and Newport News Waterworks. The Corps' decision was based on Institute for Water Resources findings that Newport News does not need the water. Additionally, the Corps was concerned with the impacts on minorities and traditional cultural properties as well as the impact on 437 acres of wetlands, which would have been flooded by the proposed reservoir.

"Over and over people have said `Forget it. No way you're going to win this thing,'" said Carl "Lone Eagle" Custalow, the Mattaponi's Assistant Chief. "We had no alternative than to fight, even if it was a David and Goliath struggle. We are the People of the River and to destroy the river means destroying us. The river is the center of our culture and heritage."

The Mattaponi Indians have fought the proposed reservoir because it would likely destroy shad fishery in the Mattaponi, due to water withdrawals from the river and the resulting increased salinity. The tribe, known as the People of the River, consider it their spiritual home and have operated a shad hatchery since 1917 on the river which runs past their 150-acre reservation. The Mattaponi, the oldest recognized tribe in the U.S., believe that the reservoir would breach ancient peace treaties and infringe on their reservation, created in 1658. They also fear that it would destroy the Indians' subsistence fishing.

"The entire tribe is joyful," Custalow said. "This decision protects Mother Earth and insures the river will be there for our future generations. It makes me feel hopeful that there actually is justice for Native Americans. But even though we've won this huge battle, the story isn't over yet."

The Corps' regional director is expected to issue a final decision based on the preliminary findings.

"We are simply delighted. Quite frankly, the Corps isn't exactly known as environmental softies," Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Director Glen Besa said. "The Corps' analysis is almost identical to one that the Sierra Club commissioned two years ago. We are glad to have the Corps weigh in with an impartial decision that protecting the Indians and the river is the right thing to do."


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