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Mills signs bill that gives Passamaquoddy more control over their water supply

Nick Woodward
Maine Public
Plansowes Dana, a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and staffer for Wabanaki Public Health & Wellness, fills jugs of spring water in Robbinston to bring back to the Pleasant Point Reservation.

Gov. Janet Mills signed into law on Thursday a bill that gives the Passamaquoddy Tribe more control over drinking water supplies.

The bill, LD 906, is one of three pieces of legislation that have emerged as a top priority for the Wabanaki tribes in Maine. Passamaquoddy leaders say their community has been struggling for decades with dirty and sometimes unpalatable or unsafe water that is drawn from a local lake. The new law enables the tribe to seek alternative water sources on tribal land without state approval and gives the federal government primary regulatory authority over water for the tribe.

An earlier version of the bill passed the Legislature last week but was recalled from the governor’s desk after she indicated she would veto the measure. The revised version, which passed the House and Senate this week, seeks to address concerns raised by neighboring municipalities by clarifying that the tribe’s jurisdiction does not extend beyond its territorial boundaries.

“Members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik, like all people in Maine, deserve access to clean, safe drinking water,” Mills said in a statement, using the Passamaquoddy word for the tribal lands. “This legislation will build on our efforts to ensure that they get it. I thank the Passamaquoddy people for their collaboration on this law, which demonstrates that we can make progress for all when we work together.”

Two other high-profile bills involving tribal sovereignty and allowing tribes in Maine to offer online sports gambling are still pending in the Legislature. The sovereignty bill, LD 1626, is the highest priority of Wabanaki leaders because it would restore the self-government rights to the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Penobscot Nation and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. The bill deals with environmental regulation, taxation, land use, criminal justice and hunting and fishing on tribal lands. But Mills has expressed strong concerns about the measure and is widely expected to veto it, if it reaches her desk.

The third bill, LD 585, would give the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and Maliseet tribes exclusive right to offer online sports betting in Maine. That bill was negotiated with the Mills administration.

Both bills have already received initial approval in the House and Senate. But they are currently awaiting funding from the Legislature’s budget-writing committee before they can be returned to the Senate for final passage.