Genesee County, New York
Today, the Tonawanda Seneca Nation petitioned the New York State Supreme Court to stop the development of a manufacturing megasite adjacent to the Nation’s land in Genesee County. The Nation warns that the development will infringe on the Big Woods, a pristine parcel of land that citizens of the Nation forage and hunt on, as they have for centuries.
“The impact of the project — including the additional noise and smells related to additional people in the area, diesel machinery and general operations — will diminish the Big Woods as a pristine hunting ground,” said Kenith Jonathan, Sachem Chief for the Wolf Clan of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation and keeper of the Western Door. “Animals will be scared away from the area and I fear that the hunting will be less productive.”
According to Chief Jonathan, the Big Woods are an important area for hunting, fishing, and gathering traditional medicine used by the Haudenosaunee, or Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, of which the Tonawanda Seneca Nation is a member. The natural resources in the Big Woods also are the foundation for traditions important to the Tonawanda Seneca Nation and other Haudenosaunee Nations.
“I’m a traditional lacrosse stick maker,” said Jonathan. “If the megasite moves forward and the noise and people displace deer, the hides I use may not be available and I won’t be able to make traditional lacrosse sticks.”
The Big Woods are also a source of various traditional medicines important to the Nation’s culture and health. For centuries, the Tonawanda Seneca people have relied on the medicines, passing down the knowledge from generation to generation.
“The Creator has given us the opportunity to use and harvest medicines from the Big Woods and our elders have taught us how to properly harvest and use these medicines,” said Vance Wyder, a citizen of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation. “I have taught my sons and grandchildren how to hunt and harvest traditional medicines.”
Wyder says that if the Plug Power project is constructed, he will not feel comfortable gathering medicines in the Big Woods — and those plants are not readily available at alternative sites in the region. The Tonawanda Seneca people also play traditional games not far from the proposed Plug Power site. Citizens of the Nation are concerned that the games will be disturbed by the traffic, noise, and light pollution from the project.
“If the Plug Power project goes forward, there will be significant impacts to our people, our way of life and our future generations,” said Grandell Logan, a spokesperson for the Nation.
In the lawsuit, the Nation alleges that the Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC) failed to adequately review the environmental impact of the proposed Plug Power, Inc., electrolysis hydrogen production facility in the Western New York Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park (STAMP). The Nation says that further environmental review is required under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act and asks the court to nullify GCEDC’s decision.
“The Plug Power project is being touted as a green development initiative, but development of a manufacturing mega-site adjacent to the Nation’s Territory endangers both the environment and the cultural traditions and practices of the Tonawanda Seneca people,” said Laura Berglan, a senior attorney with Earthjustice, who is representing the Nation. “A thorough environmental review that considers the impacts to the Tonawanda Seneca Nation, and animals and plants on which the Tonawanda Seneca people rely, must be conducted in accordance with the law.”
Read a copy of the lawsuit.