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Tribal Cultural Boundary Alarms Some in Town

The Mohegan Tribe says it is nothing new, nothing to worry about. A public hearing will be held on June 14

When the Environmental Impact Statement for - a mixed income housing development proposed for Route 32 - was published, it contained a single sheet of paper that has some people in town very, very worried.

The sheet is a map of Montville with a “Proposed Traditional Cultural Boundary” noted by a dotted black line. The TCP is likely to be a topic in a public hearing that is scheduled on the environmental impact statement for June 14 at 6 p.m., in the Town Council chamber at Montville Town Hall.

The proposed TCP starts at the Montville Drive-in. It runs between the drive-in and Johnson Pond, then northwest to just west of Interstate 395. It follows the highway north until it turns east at Gallivan Road, takes a small jog, follows Fort Shantok Road, and outlines the former Fort Shantok Park. The boundary continues south along the Thames River to a point where it picks up Massapeag Road, which it follows back to the drive-in.

According to Chuck Bunnell, chief of staff of the Mohegan Tribe, the Traditional Cultural Property boundary is nothing new.

It came up in this context, Bunnell said, because The Villages was seeking funding from Housing and Urban Development.

Town Planner Marcia Vlaun echoed Bunnell.

The HUD application instigated a “government to government review,” Vlaun said. The tribe is a separate government, and as such, is asked to comment on cultural and historical elements on the site in question.

“There are significant properties” on the site being developed as the Villages, Bunnell said. Chief Uncas had a fort there, and there are other culturally significant features in a number of places on the site.  Also, the mixed-income development is planned for property adjacent to the Mohegan Tribe’s elder housing property.

The developers, he said, have agreed to work their building in a way that ensures that these culturally significant areas aren’t disturbed.

 

BUT THE VILLAGES REVIEW brought the proposed Traditional Cultural Property Boundary into the light.

Daniel T. Forrest, the deputy state historic preservation officer, explained the the process surrounding the proposed TCP.

The Office of Housing and Urban Development, he said, in conjunction with the state historic preservation office, makes a finding about whether the TCP is eligible for listing on the National Historic Register.

That finding involves consulting with the state historic preservation office, the town, the owners of the property, the applicant and the tribe, Forrest said.

TCPs are more complex than many other historic and cultural determinations, Forrest said, because the historic and cultural significance can be spread over a large area.

Right now, the public comment is open, and those comments will be part of the determination. Once the public comment period has closed, Forrest said, his office and HUD will produce their written opinions on whether the TCP is eligible for listing.

At that point, the National Historic Register could consider the proposed TCP for listing, Forrest said.

Even if it is listed, he said, there is no assumption that any federal activity should be assumed to have a negative effect on sites of cultural or historic significance for the tribe.

 

''ULTIMATELY," FORREST SAID, "if there is a TCP out there,  it is another type of resource that a federal agency would have to consider."

It does not necessarily mean no development, nor does it necessarily mean that the tribe is able to control development, he said. In addition, he said, "we've had no indication that the tribe has any intention" of swaying development.

This is a point Bunnell makes, also.

“We’re not anti-development,” Bunnell said. “We paid for the gas line and the sewer line that runs up 32.

“But the Mohegans feel very strongly about protecting cultural properties.”

Bunnell and Forrest both said the TCP would have no effect on whether a person can sell an individual house, build a swimming pool, paint your barn pink. When private financing is involved, he said, the tribe is not brought into the process.

 

ACCORDING TO THE COMPACT that the tribe and the state signed in 1994, the tribe is allowed to buy, at fair market value, 700 acres and then take it into trust.

Vlaun, who said that the proposed TCP Boundary came as “a complete shock” does question the effect that it could have on development in town.

“This is a time, and this is a town where it’s difficult enough to do economic development” without adding another layer of oversight, she said recently.

The TCP area, she said, contains the most strategic undeveloped land in Montville.

“My job is to protect and be concerned about the rights of people who live in Montville,” she said.

Mayor Ron McDaniel said that he has talked to the tribe, and believes that “They are not attempting to stifle development in any way, but to delineate and protect their cultural property.”

Town Councilor Rosetta Jones who, with Vlaun, was instrumental in circulating the petition to make the public hearing happen, said at the most recent Town Council meeting that she believes that the Tribal Cultural Boundary would “not only block (The Villages) project, but it’s going to impede enormously our ability to develop.”

The Environmental Impact Statement, which is about 3 inches thick, is available in the Planning Department, and in the Town Clerk’s office.

Comments on the EIS will be accepted through June 22.

The public hearing with the Department of Economic and Community Development is scheduled for June 14 at 6 p.m.

REVMAN May 28, 2012 at 02:47 PM
This was in the WallStreet Journal it may be of intrest-BY A.D. PRUITT The Obama administration removed a hurdle for Indian tribes wanting to build casinos far from their ancestral land, setting the stage for new development. Under pressure from many tribes throughout the country, the Interior Department, which runs the Bureau of Indian Affairs, rescinded a Bush-era directive that said tribes could develop casinos off their reservations only if they were within commuting distance. The Bureau will return to a policy that considers off-reservation casinos on a case-by-case basis. The policy shift is poised to revive numerous plans for off-reservation casino projects, from the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon to the Catskills http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304665904576386104205627100.html
Edward Jones May 28, 2012 at 05:17 PM
So basically if the tribe can claim any significant activity they can control development. Ie; 450 years ago an ancestor of Uncas took a dump in my backyard, they could use this loophole to claim some historical significance? What is the burden of proof for this claim? I mean is this second fort a real fortification or did Uncas and friends build it when they were youngsters? Seriously this is sounding alarms of loophole exploitation by a politically and financially connected entity to use for future claims if you ask me.
richard gladue May 28, 2012 at 05:49 PM
The fort is real and you can see all the way to the gold star bridge .It probably came in handy when their enemies were coming up the river, believe me i know i live 200 ft from it.
Sam Merlino May 29, 2012 at 04:11 PM
It sounds like the tribe is blocking development, job creation, and affordanble housing to an area that needs it.
Ellen Hillman May 29, 2012 at 04:28 PM
I am sure the fort is real but if the tribe wanted control or say so over town land then they should join the Planning and zoning commission, not add an other layer of red tape for a developer to cross. Connecticut is not in a stable economic way right now so lets make it harder for towns to get tax money. If the tribe wants the fort let them buy it. That is what you and I have to do. Heck I have 5 generations alive and well in this town. Do I get to claim my land as part of my culture? Can I call the state and say the woodland we own is of historical signifiance? I know my brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles have carved their name into trees, does that give me the right to tell the town of Montville not to cut them down? Come on people we have to draw the line somewhere. Please come out to the hearing and voice your concern.
Colleen Casady May 29, 2012 at 04:56 PM
We live in a day and age where the economy is extremely fragile. The Villages development in entirety will provide not only affordable housing to the citizens of Montville, but also allow jobs to be created, revenue to be generated and taxes paid to the town. Clearly, an attempt by anyone, the tribe or otherwise to add red tape to a worthy and beneficial project such as this will jeopardize future development. The tribe, while appearing relatively neutral seems only to be concerned with gaining control of what is developed in Montville. Economic development will allow Montville to remain viable within a turbulent and unsteady economy.
Tom Chambers May 29, 2012 at 05:20 PM
The Tribe has benefited incredibly from their casino development and can buy this property if it is so important. They have bought so much land in the area and it's a farce that they get in the way of local development and growth that will benefit us all in Montville. Everyone knows that Monvtille/Uncasville is full of areas like this fort area and the Tribe has known about it for years. They just don't want affordable housing next door to their fancy housing. This part of the state is in need of nice, new affordable housing for working families. No one got in their way of developing their buildings why are they doing this to our town.This is hypocritical!!
Ron Hanson May 29, 2012 at 05:33 PM
WOW! Whats odd to me is that the article states that the Tribe's position is not anti-development and they built a gas line and sewer for down rt 32! Are you kidding me?!? I wonder why they did that! Was it for the good people of Montville or so they could use it for their casino and elderly living home! Absurd! What people need to see here is that this is straight up bullying and puts ALL landowners close to Indian property on a VERY SLIPPERY SLOPE! What kind of neighbors are these people! All development is good and fine for their purposes but not for others? It is absolutely un-American in an economically depressed state to allow the Tribe to use their money and influence to purposely block a development that will bring taxes, jobs, and affordable housing. Shameful, just shameful and very dangerous
Sam Rogers May 29, 2012 at 08:46 PM
The citizens of Montville need "affordable housing" like they need a hole in the head. Our schools consume, give or take, $9000 per pupil per year. Unless each new housing unit generates that much in taxes annually (for two kids, twice as much), "affordable" simply means "subsidized by everyone else." With taxes already set to climb 8% this year, it's absolutely incredible that anyone is advocating this sort of project. What "revenue" are you talking about, Colleen? Affordable housing, unless limited to adults with no children, equals negative revenue. Nor is burdening taxpayers in this manner an economically-viable way of "creating jobs" - it would be more efficient for the construction workers to stay home and taxpayers to simply write them checks.
Sam Rogers May 29, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Tom, you should recognize a shake-down when you see one. Of course the Tribe could buy it, and perhaps ultimately will, but the landowner is apparently trying to jack up its value. Naturally, the price of land increases in proportion to what can lawfully be done with it, so the landowner is using methods at his disposal to try to increase its price while the Tribe is using methods at its disposal to try to prevent this from happening. I doubt any of the actual players in this matter were born yesterday, although Councilwoman Jones and many of the commenters here appear to have been.
kahl May 29, 2012 at 09:36 PM
damn indians! how dare they think they can just take our land! thats so presumptive! what do they think they are? white?
kahl May 29, 2012 at 09:42 PM
the ten thousand people working at the casino would probably dispute the job creation assertion. also the casino is the reason why many businesses are opening in Montville, so you should probably rethink that as well.
Mark Spretnjak May 29, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Sam, did you say the land owner is trying to jack up the price? Do you know the land owner? You have ABSOLUTELY no idea what your talking about! A shakedown is right! On the Indians part that is!! Do you know how many people have tried to build in the area only to have the Indians outspend them to squash development? There have literally been millions spent by hard working people trying to make a buck, only to have the big bag tribe shut them out!! What the Tribe wants built gets built, the rest can kick rocks!! Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles could see this coming
Kelsey Bravard May 30, 2012 at 04:54 AM
If this article doesn't prove the tribe is anti-job creation, anti affordable income housing, and anti economical growth then nothing does. Here's a tribe who doesn't spend a dollar a year in taxes and has done nothing in this recession but cut jobs, and layoff employees, so when a worthy building project comes along what do they do?! Well naturally they try to use their big bad leverage and block such a great project that would bring jobs, help the economy, and bring affordable housing for those in need. So sad to see local towns being bullied by these greedy tribes.
Crazy Lady May 31, 2012 at 11:46 AM
If this goes thru the town should just give the East side of town to the Tribe and the West side of town to Rand Whitney. After all our elected leaders are incapable of making a educated decision to benefit our residence. They only care about going to the top floor at the casino and free golf with RW.

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