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Connecticut towns fight state support of Mashantucket Pequot water district

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MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - State support of a Mashantucket Pequot water district is fueling yet another fight between the tribe and its neighboring towns.

In what was apparently meant to be a routine decision, the Drinking Water Division of the Connecticut Department of Public Health in early June designated the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation as the exclusive water provider in an area in which it is developing a championship golf course complex. But the new service area overlaps the political boundaries of North Stonington, Preston and Ledyard, three adjacent towns often at bitter odds with the tribe.

The Mashantuckets abandoned an earlier attempt to take land into trust in the area, formerly the Lake of Isles Boy Scout Reservation, after a prolonged lawsuit brought by the three towns and their frequent ally, State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

After initial protests from the towns, Gerald Iwan, director of the Drinking Water Division, upheld the decision. He told the Norwich Bulletin that the tribe presented evidence that it already owned the water systems on the properties in question. "It was a pretty perfunctory matter, actually," he said.

Town leaders reply that some of the parcels in the exclusive coverage area are privately owned. According to local papers, in a petition to the New London Superior Court, they argued that private residents in the area would not have recourse to state courts in service disputes because of tribal sovereign immunity against lawsuits.

They also complained that the state usurped the authority of the regional Water Utility Coordinating Committee. Adding further aggravation, said North Stonington First Selectman Nicholas Mullane II, the state decision came as a surprise while he was negotiating water issues separately with the tribe.

Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon told Indian Country Today that the towns were hoping that a ruling from the Attorney General's office would settle the issue before the court suit went forward.

Mashantucket Pequot spokesmen have limited their comment, telling local papers only "The state's decision speaks for itself."

On June 25, the tribe offered a public preview of the golf course development, including a golf academy, 50,000-square-foot clubhouse and twin course totaling 36 holes. Designed by Rees Jones, the courses follow the crest of a bowl encircling the 96-acre lake. It is scheduled to open for play in spring 2005.

Tribal Chairman Michael J. Thomas emphasized the environmental standards of the project in a statement in the Pequot Times, the tribal newspaper. "My people, the Mashantucket Pequot, hold the land on which Lake of Isles is being built in deep reverence," he said. "Tribal Nations citizens take great pride in this stewardship, which represents an enduring tribute to all those who will walk the land in the years to come."