AKWESASNE — The state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe have announced the signing of what they call a historic cooperative agreement that will help accelerate restoration of natural resources and traditional Native American uses within the St. Lawrence River Area of Concern near Massena and the Akwesasne Territory.
According to a DEC release, this cooperative agreement is the first of its kind across the United States portion of the Great Lakes.
“The formalization of this agreement is the culmination of a new, exciting, and historic partnership between the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council and New York state,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement.
“When the Area of Concern was first identified in 1987, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe voiced the need to have Akwesasne recognized as an equal partner in remediating the serious environmental pollution inflicted upon our territory,” the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council said in a statement.
Areas of Concern are geographic areas around the Great Lakes that are environmentally degraded. In 1987, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement designated 43 AOCs in order to focus restoration work on these areas.
The Massena area of the St. Lawrence River was originally listed as an AOC because of elevated levels of heavy metals and PCBs in sediments, wildlife, and water samples collected in the lower Grasse, Raquette and St. Regis rivers. Significant progress is being made in remediating and restoring these waters, but more work remains, the press release said.
Key features of the cooperative agreement include:
— Having representatives of both DEC and the tribe serve as co-coordinators for implementation of the AOC’s Remedial Action Plan;
— Developing resource restoration plans to include both natural and cultural resources within the AOC; and
— Enhanced outreach and education of surrounding communities to improve the understanding and support of the agencies efforts.
One immediate outcome of the state-tribal partnership will be the revitalization of the Remedial Advisory Committee to consist of members of the local Massena community and tribal representatives.
The agreement also includes the formal renaming of this unique location from the “St. Lawrence River at Massena” to the “St. Lawrence River Area of Concern at Massena/Akwesasne.”