Volume 12, Issue 18 ~ April 29-May 5, 2004
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Tribes Plus Trash Spells Trouble for Anne Arundel County

Once upon a time before Bay Weekly, we won some journalism prizes digging into a peculiar kind of dirty business. In a series of stories called Broken Trust, we investigated waste brokers and toxic dumpers who were luring Indian tribes into their schemes.

We traveled many miles — from Paiute land in the Arizona desert to native corporations alongside Alaskan glaciers — to chronicle what looked to us like cynical exploitation.

The waste brokers were a crafty lot. They’d show up at pow-wows with flip charts and promises. One notorious fellow in the business of hazardous waste traveled the high desert with a Bible on the dashboard of his Cadillac.

The pitch went something like this: For the sake of your people, take these harmless loads of household trash. Or let us build you an incinerator for more troublesome materials and you can help us clean up the environment.

In return, we’ll give you cash, roads and scholarships — and your tribe won’t be wanting again.

Often, tribal leaders were being tricked, if not swindled. After internal hullabaloos that often split the tribe, most backed away from the deals so as not to violate the bond with “Mother Earth.”

We never expected to encounter such partnerships in Anne Arundel County. For one thing, we have no recognized Indian tribes. That’s just one of the peculiar twists in the proposed partnership in the western county between a Maryland waste outfit, National Waste Managers, and a tiny Oklahoma tribe called the Delaware Nation.

The plan, under review by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, calls for deeding a controversial rubblefill owned by National Waste Managers to the Oklahoma Delawares. This scheme puts a new wrinkle in the old pattern: Rather than traveling to Oklahoma, rubble waste would continue being dumped in Odenton.

The big difference would be that Anne Arundel County’s ability to regulate the landfill — and perhaps future enterprises on the site — would be threatened. That’s because under Indian ownership, the land and all it contains would fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, through its trust obligation with American Indians.

For once, a tribe could benefit as a partner in the dumping — if it didn’t get saddled with some unforeseen liability down the line. But in this trash talk, we in Anne Arundel County could end up the victim.

This new scheme is clever, but it doesn’t come close to passing the sniff test.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated April 29, 2004 @ 2:17am.