Two 17th century treaties don't appear to give the Mattaponi Indians special protection against a proposed reservoir near their reservation, the Virginia attorney general's office said June 3.
"The decision was a disappointment, but the tribe hasn't given up," said Carl Custalow, the tribe's assistant chief. "We will continue to fight this reservoir."
The tribe, along with state and local environmental groups, are battling plans by the Newport News Waterworks to create a 1,527-acre reservoir in the Mattaponi River watershed. The 6-mile reservoir would be built on Cohoke Creek, flooding 524 acres of wetlands, and would run diagonally across King William County.
Environmentalists charge that the waterworks is securing more water than it needs to support future development that would sprawl across the landscape. Waterworks officials say an adequate water supply would help concentrate development in places where infrastructure already exists.
The Mattaponis had based their opposition on a 1646 treaty that requires the state to protect them from "enemies." But that only applies on the tribe's reservation in King William County, Deputy Attorney General Frank Ferguson wrote in a seven-page letter to the tribe's attorney. The tribe would have to show that the reservoir would interfere with the use of its property or its rights to the adjacent Mattaponi River, he wrote.
Meanwhile, state officials delayed a decision on issuing a permit for the project until July 25 and have scheduled another public hearing on the reservoir for 6 p.m., July 16, at Acquinton Elementary School in King William, Va.
The project also requires a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is also taking comments until July 25.
The Mattaponi & Pamunkey Rivers Association, one of several groups involved with the issue, recently appealed to Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Becky Norton Dunlop to intervene in the issue.
The association, in a letter, contended that the state Department of Environmental Quality strayed from the administration's policy of collaborating with local governments on decisions regarding local water quality. Local governments in the vicinity had not been adequately consulted about their future water demands before the application was made to build a reservoir and pipe the water to a more distant location, the letter said. "If Virginia's local governments are expected and encouraged to work collaboratively in addressing water quality problems on a tributary or watershed basis, should they not be addressing water supply and allocation issues in a similar fashion?" association Executive Director Billy Mills asked in the letter.