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Mohawk Man Arrested for Taking Backhoe to Superfund Site

Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) arrested for taking a backhoe to a GM Superfund site in Massena, NY, in protest over a lack of cleanup
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Sick of waiting for a General Motors Superfund site cleanup that will never happen, a Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) man took a backhoe to a toxic landfill on Thursday.

Larry Thompson, 56, was charged on August 11 with two felonies and two misdemeanors after he drove onto the notoriously polluted mound, scooped up contaminated soil and loaded it into railroad cars that were waiting to cart away debris from the GM building that is being torn down in the wake of bankruptcy proceedings.

He was charged with two counts of second-degree criminal mischief, a felony, as well as two misdemeanors, resisting arrest and reckless endangerment, according to a report from New York State Police in Massena, New York. He was being held on $100,000 cash bail.

His wife, Dana Leigh Thompson, told Indian Country Today Media Network that she has since received numerous calls from people offering to donate time, backhoes and excavators to continue the protest. Her husband will be appointed a court attorney but has vowed to represent himself, she added. He remained in jail late Thursday.

“Larry was given this order by the clan mother. Bear Clan Mother,” Dana Thompson said in a telephone interview. “She directed him to do this. So he had to do it. No matter what, she is the supreme law of the land. So she told him to go and do it. So he did. He followed her orders.”

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The site, known as the General Motors–Central Foundry Division Superfund Site in Massena, New York, is one of the country’s top 10 Superfund sites. When GM closed off the landfill years ago, they capped it with plastic, covered that with clay and soil, and planted trees and grass, Dana Thompson explained.

Grassy and tree-covered, it looks like any bucolic scene in rural New York State. But underneath lies a pile of chemicals and PCBs left over from the plant’s heyday. Thompson’s property is right next to the landfill.

“For 32 years we’ve been waiting for them to clean it up,” Dana Thompson said. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, of which she and her husband are not registered members, agreed in October 2010, along with 14 states, for GM to allocate $773 million to “resolve environmental liabilities” on 89 sites across the country, as the U.S. Department of Justice said in announcing the settlement.

Under the agreement, the Racer Trust was created to administer the money and the cleanup. More than half the funds went to sites in New York and Michigan, with $120.8 million going to the Massena site and a portion of that to the tribe. But the plan is to leave the material in place and monitor it, she said, not get rid of it.

“Remove the pile, remove the Superfund site, take all their poison out of here and put it into a secure site,” Thompson said of her wishes for the masked pile of crud. “They call it a cleanup but it’s really a cover-up, because they’re just covering it up.”