EPA issues adverse decision on St. Regis Superfund Site cleanup in Cass Lake, ignores community concerns

Leech Lake Band questions the timing of the announcement amid the COVID-19 pandemic while the Tribal government is closed, vows to fight decision in court

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Cass Lake, Minn, April 3rd, 2020 – After decades of negotiations and hundreds of letters and public comments from community members, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) announced in a Record of Decision (ROD) for a cleanup plan of the Operable Unit 7 (OU-7) of the St. Regis Superfund site; a site wholly contained within the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in Cass Lake, Minnesota.

Since 1995, when the USEPA took over as lead agency responsible for oversight from the State of Minnesota for the St. Regis Superfund Site, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe has been requesting a timely cleanup of the site and for the removal of contamination from the Reservation. Yet 25 years later, while Leech Lake and the world are in a state of emergency with a growing COVID-19 pandemic, the USEPA releases a decision that lays a path to allow a multi-billion dollar corporation the permanent storage of contaminated soil and hazardous waste within our homeland, the Leech Lake Reservation.

“We can only assume the timing of such an action is to mask the shame the USEPA is feeling as this pandemic limits both the community and the Band’s ability to respond”, stated Faron Jackson, Sr, Chairman of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Chairman Jackson continued, “this Record of Decision undermines the fair application of law, community input and sets the stage to unjustly shift the burden of contamination and cleanup from the responsible parties to the Tribe.”

The Record of Decision ignores the Band’s petition for offsite removal and does not have local community or Tribal support. At the EPA-hosted public meeting held in July of 2019, the Cass Lake community stood up and voiced its opposition to the proposal outlined in the ROD and how contamination needs to be removed from the site. This has fallen on deaf ears as is shown in the EPA’s one paragraph summary within the 128 page record, dismissing the hours of public testimony, written comments, and a formal petition that the community submitted.

“The failure of the US EPA is apparent to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in this decision and we are exploring our options to appeal as we seem to be the only ones who care about our Reservation, the broader community and the impacts this decision leaves for our grandchildren to live with well into their future”, stated Benjamin Benoit, Environmental Director for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

For more information on the St. Regis Superfund site go to www.llojibwe.org/drm/environmental/superfund.html

For media inquires, contact: Irene Folstrom, Superfund Coordinator (612) 790-4013

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