SALAMANCA - For new Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter, a "historic injustice" committed against the Seneca Nation of Indians entitles the tribe to obtain a license to operate the Seneca Pumped Storage Project at the Kinzua Dam.
Porter made the remarks while explaining why the nation applied Tuesday to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to take over the project at the dam, when an Akron, Ohio, company's license to operate it expires in 2015. That company, FirstEnergy, has also filed notice it intends to seek a renewal of the operating license. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will take up the matter.
Porter said Tuesday that Senecas once watched as their homes were burned and bulldozed to create the reservoir that resulted from the dam's construction. Porter said building the dam displaced more than 800 Senecas and graves. Although the dam opened in 1965, it was in 1970 when the federal government "gave away the right" to generate hydropower to private, for-profit utility companies, Porter said.
Robert Odawi Porter, Seneca Nation president, discusses the nation’s hydroelectric power plans during a news conference Tuesday.
P-J photo by Sharon Turano
"We will no longer sit idly or silently by and watch our water flow through our territory for others' benefit and prosperity," said Wendy Huff, executive director of the nation's Kinzua Dam Relicensing Commission during the Tuesday news conference held to inform people about the nation's application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate the hydropower project.
The Seneca's attempt to win the license to operate the power project began with the filing of a 545-page pre-application document that can be viewed at www.post-journal.com along with this story.
"We are here today to begin the process of righting a historic wrong," Porter said. "Not only were Seneca lives lost and Seneca lands confiscated, but the use of our lands and waters was taken from us for the profit-making activities of American corporate interests," said Porter. He said the application filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission makes the case that continued operation of the Seneca Pump Storage facility "misappropriates Seneca Nation lands and waters in violation of federal law."
"We will no longer sit idly or silently by and watch our water flow through our territory for others' benefit and prosperity."
"Our application makes clear that American corporate interests have profited for decades from this injustice while the Seneca Nation and Seneca people have received absolutely nothing in return," he said, adding the nation was compensated for the use of its lands for flood control purposes, but, he said, it has never been compensated for the use of its lands and waters for profit-making purposes.
"That the United States would grant a license to private corporations to generate income at our expense is to add insult to injury," he said. "Today, we begin the effort to end this travesty of justice.''
Porter said addressing a historic injustice is not the only reason the nation seeks to operate the hydropower facility. He said diversifying the nation's economy is another reason for the action it is attempting. He said the nation will seek a partnership with an experienced hydropower partner to operate the Seneca-pumped storage facility. Porter said acquiring the license to operate the facility is "exactly the kind-of green energy development that is completely consistent with our time-honored Seneca values of protecting the lands and waters of our Mother Earth."
"Unlike corporate interests that scatter their profits to shareholders far and wide, our interests focus on the long-term survival of our people and the vitality of our region," said Porter, who said that survival is based on being "vigorous stewards of our lands and waters. Our goal today is to honor the sacrifices of our ancestors by taking action to secure the survival of our future generations. Who better than us to have the right to operate a hydroelectric power facility for the next 50 years that is sustained by our very own lands and waters?.
The question is one the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seeks to address as it reviews applications for licensing to operate the facility.
"We plan to do everything necessary to convince the American government that now is the time to do the right thing," Porter said, asking whether the United States is willing to do its part.