Tribe's reservoir lawsuit settled

The Mattaponi and Newport News end nearly 10 years of litigation. A trial was scheduled to begin in June.

BY SABINE HIRSCHAUER 247-4536 April 11, 2007 NEWPORT NEWS -- The Mattaponi Indian Tribe and Newport News settled on Tuesday a nearly 10-year-old lawsuit about the city's controversial proposed King William Reservoir.

The city will pay the tribe $650,000 within the next 14 days as a compromise to resolve the disputes concerning the tribe's water rights that date to a 1677 treaty.

The settlement marks a crucial step toward the city's reservoir project that for years remained under attack by environmental groups and others, forcing the city to spend millions of dollars in legal fees.

In February, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation filed a suit challenging a decision to allow Newport News to continue work on the 12.2 billion-gallon reservoir.

"We were getting ready to spend a lot of money," Mayor Joe S. Frank said Tuesday night, in announcing the settlement. "Getting it settled saves us a lot."

The trial was scheduled to begin in June. The city estimated that fees for attorneys, expert witnesses and others would cost about $800,000, Frank said.

The Mattaponi reservation is on the banks of the Mattaponi River in King William County. The tribe is a party to the Treaty of Middle Plantation of 1677 - a treaty protecting certain water rights - between some American Indian tribes and the king of England.

Newport News Waterworks has worked for more than a decade on making the reservoir a reality. The city says the reservoir would address long-range water needs for the Peninsula.

But environmental groups oppose the project, arguing that it's oversized and would harm wetlands.

The tribe also thought that the reservoir would adversely affect the Mattaponi River and the tribe's fishing, gathering, cultural and religious practices, according to the settlement agreement.

The tribe filed the suit to challenge the Virginia State Water Control Board's permit for the project in 1998.

After the courts dismissed the commonwealth as a defendant last year, the lawsuit was amended to address claims against Newport News under the 1677 treaty.

In the event that the reservoir is built, the tribe and the city "desire to be good neighbors," according to a joint statement released by the City Council on Tuesday night.

Under the terms of the agreement, the tribe and the city will work together in good faith to resolve other issues concerning the reservoir.

In addition, the tribe won't file any additional suits to challenge the project under the treaty or any Virginia law.