Mills signs bill to give Passamaquoddy Tribe access to cleaner drinking water

Governor Janet Mills has signed an amended version of a bill to provide members of the Passamaquoddy tribe with better access to clean drinking water.

The governor signed LD 906 just 10 days after tribal members staged a rally outside the State House in Augusta to demand they have access to better drinking water. Protesters said the tribe’s current source was unhealthy and dangerous.

Under the law signed Thursday, the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Pleasant Point will be able to drill wells at groundwater sources located on tribal-owned land without seeking state approval.

In his announcement, Mills said the amended law builds on work already undertaken by his administration, the tribe, the local water district and the federal government to install a water treatment system this summer that is expected to improve water quality for Pleasant Point and the towns of Eastport and Perry.

“The Passamaquoddy tribesmen in Sipayik, like all Maine residents, deserve access to clean, safe drinking water,” Mill said. “This legislation will build on our efforts to make sure they get it. I thank the people of Passamaquoddy for their collaboration on this law, which demonstrates that we can make progress for everyone when we work together.

Mills had threatened to veto the initial version of the bill, fearing the bill would create two regulators for a water district that not only serves tribes, but nearby towns as well. Lawmakers recalled the bill and made changes to clarify that the tribe has no jurisdiction over the local water district and that tribal members cannot force the district to improve water standards drinkable.

Established in 1983, the Passamaquoddy Water District, a non-tribal entity, provides drinking water not only to the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Pleasant Point, but also to Perry and Eastport.

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Drinking water is drawn from Lake Boyden, and the district treats and distributes an average of 200,000 gallons to 618 customers year-round. In its testimony this year, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged the challenges of maintaining water quality in a shallow body of water like Lake Boyden. The agency noted the existence of large amounts of organic material that changes rapidly with wind and rain.

The amended version of LD 906 exempts property in the Passamaquoddy Water District from taxation by municipal governments and allows the use of two parcels of tribally owned land for use as groundwater supplies. It also clarifies that the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, not the state, has the authority to regulate drinking water standards in Passamaquoddy territory.

Other water districts in the state are already exempt from property taxes. But the Passamaquoddy Water District’s charter contained a specific provision subjecting it to property taxes assessed by Eastport and Perry.

In an interview with the Press Herald this month, Passamaquoddy chief Maggie Dana said generations of residents have been harmed by dirty and unsafe drinking water, which sometimes looks and smells bad. At other times, the water is heavily chlorinated, she said, to “clean up animal feces,” creating a public health hazard.

“This is a flagrant violation of our human and civil rights,” Dana said. “Our culture is clear: water is life. And for the Passamaquoddy of Sipayik, it’s poison.

The clean water bill, sponsored by Passamaquoddy Tribal Representative Rena Newell, has garnered a wide range of community support, including from the Maine Public Health Association, the Maine Medical Association and the Conservation Law Foundation. .

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