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Health

Maine House overwhelmingly advances clean water bill for Passamaquoddy tribe

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Nicole Ogrysko
/
Maine Public
A few hundred people rallied outside the State House in Augusta and then walked to the Blaine House on April 11, 2022 in support legislation aimed at improving water quality for the Passamaquoddy tribe.

A bill designed to improve drinking water quality for the Passamaquoddy tribe near Eastport won overwhelming approval in the Maine House Tuesday.

The Passamaquoddy tribe at Sipayik has said its water supply is contaminated and has been unsafe to drink for the last 40 years.

The House-passed bill would allow the tribe to work directly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate and secure clean drinking water. It would also allow the tribe to access two pieces of its own land without municipal approval, where the tribe could dig new wells.

Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, I-Waldoboro, said the land in question would amount to about 55 acres.

"In order for our state to solve the Native American federal inherent sovereignty issue, yes, it's going to take some sacrifices," he said Tuesday from the House floor. "55 acres? The state of Maine stole 15 million acres from the Wabanaki nations."

The legislation, which tribal representative Rena Newell has introduced, It would also exempt the Passamaquoddy Water District from paying property taxes, a requirement that applies to no other water district in Maine.

A few House members echoed the concerns from the Mills administration that the legislation could create jurisdictional issues for the nearby towns of Eastport and Perry.

Rep. Billy Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, dismissed those concerns.

"I've heard that this bill leapfrogs the process, the process on trusts and water extraction from the town of Perry," he said. "The question I would ask is how sad is it that they have to? The reservation has been dealing with unsafe, undrinkable water for decades."

The vote was 103-35 in favor, and the measure now heads to the Senate.

Tuesday's vote came one day after a few hundred Sipayik citizens and other advocates rallied outside the State House in Augusta for the legislation.