Feds Accuse Native American of Polluting Wetlands

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CN) – The United States brought a federal complaint Monday against a Native American who it says has ignored a demand to clean up years of construction waste dumped into Long Island wetlands.

Gordon Smith Sr. is a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, living on land in Southampton that was allotted to him by the tribe, according to the complaint.

Federal prosecutors for the Eastern District of New York say it was the Council for the Shinnecock in 2016 that asked the Environmental Protection Agency to inspect Smith’s property.

That inspection, according to the complaint, revealed that bricks, gravel and other landscaping material were deposited “into one-tenth of an acre of the Shinnecock Wetlands.”

The wetlands are adjacent to Heady Creek, which is an arm of Shinnecock Bay, a tidal embayment of the Atlantic Ocean, according to the complaint.

Justice Department attorneys say the wetlands have a number of important functions, including serving as wildlife habitat and protecting the shoreline against erosion.

Smith’s pollutants meanwhile have dried up some of the wetlands, accordign to the complaint.

“Given that the Shinnecock Wetlands are part of the largest estuarine ecosystems in New York state, the discharge of fill material into the Shinnecock Wetlands diminishes the extent to which the wetland can perform these functions and maintain healthy aquatic ecological communities,” the complaint states.

The complaint says Smith, or people who acted on his orders, began using construction equipment to dump the debris in 2013.

It does not specify whether the dumping stopped, but it says Smith ignored the EPA’s demand last year for “a list of all contractors that dumped fill material at the property.”

Smith has also taken no action to comply with a 2017 administrative compliance order, which among other things instructed him to restore the property to the previolation condition.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Vincent Lipari signed the complaint, which was filed in Central Islip with help from Jeffrey Wood, acting assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the U.S. Department of Justice. Lipari’s office said it did not have a comment beyond the lawsuit.

Tribe spokeswoman Beverly Jensen did not provide a comment on the suit by press time, saying she had not seen the lawsuit early Monday afternoon.

The Shinnecock Nation Environmental Department also did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Though the tribe is federally recognized and its reservation is self-governing, court filings show that the the council asked the EPA to exercise enforcement authority when Smith refused to comply with a cease-and-desist order from the Shinnecock Indian Nation Council of Trustees.

The 2018 U.S. Open was held last month near Shinnecock land, to some protests. The land on which the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club was built used to belong to the Shinnecock Nation, and protesters said an ancestral burial ground was “desecrated” to build the course. The nation filed a claim for the land in 2005 but lost.

%d bloggers like this: