Tonawanda Seneca Nation Files Lawsuit Challenging Industrial Sewage Pipeline through Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge

Construction has caused multiple drilling fluid spills in the refuge; pipeline being built to attract business to mega industrial site next to Nation territory


Nydia Gutiérrez,

Chief Roger Hill (Tonawanda Seneca Nation),

Grandell Logan (Tonawanda Seneca Nation),


Today, the Tonawanda Seneca Nation filed a lawsuit in the Western District Court of New York challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to grant a right-of-way permit for an industrial wastewater pipeline through the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. The pipeline permit approval and subsequent drilling, which violates the National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act, has caused multiple spills of hundreds of gallons of drilling fluids onto federally protected land and wetlands, prompting several pipeline construction stop orders.

“The Tonawanda Seneca Nation opposes the destruction of habitat by STAMP [Science, Technology, and Advanced Manufacturing Park], which directly threatens our land and water, where we hunt, fish, and gather medicine and food. For years we have warned of the harms that would come from a mega industrial site next to our Reservation Territory. Our warnings were ignored and now we see the damage caused by multiple spills from the buildout of the industrial sewage pipeline. Likewise, noise, excavation, light, and truck traffic from industrial operations drive away wildlife and impacts our people,” said Tonawanda Seneca Nation Chief Roger Hill. “We are responsible for protecting our land, community, and future generations from the harms brought on by industrial development. The industrialization of the STAMP site is not just an environmental concern but a matter of human rights for the Nation.”

According to the lawsuit, the Fish & Wildlife Service unlawfully approved a portion of the 9.5-mile-long wastewater pipeline through the Refuge in order to serve the controversial 1,250-acre Science, Technology, and Advanced Manufacturing Park (STAMP) developed by the Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC). Orleans County has sued GCEDC to stop the pipeline through Orleans County, and members of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation and other area residents have publicly raised concerns for over a decade about the poorly placed mega industrial site that will harm Nation citizens and the environment. At full buildout, the site could draw 600 trucks a day, likely leading to increased motor vehicle accidents and greenhouse gas emissions to the nearby residents.

“The Fish & Wildlife Service’s complete failure to consult with the Tonawanda Seneca Nation before approving this industrial wastewater pipeline violated federal law and the trust responsibility owed to the Nation. The Service’s approval of the right of way was not compatible with the use for which the Refuge was created and pipeline construction has already caused environmental degradation,” said Jill Heaps, Senior Attorney at Earthjustice.

The STAMP site, located adjacent to the Tonawanda Seneca Nation’s reservation, is surrounded by two wildlife management areas with the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge directly to its north. According to the Fish & Wildlife Service’s website, the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1958 primarily as a nesting, resting, feeding, and staging area for migratory waterfowl, with goals of providing high-quality freshwater wetland migration stopover and breeding habitat; maintaining the health and integrity of Oak Orchard Creek and its associated floodplain and wetlands; providing a diverse mix of grassland, shrubland, and forested upland habitats; providing high-quality recreation, education, interpretive, and fishing programs; and to enhance partnerships with local communities and organizations.

Economically, according to a 2017 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation study, visitors coming to fish Oak Orchard Creek, Lake Ontario, and its tributaries in Orleans County bring $27 million to the region every year.

Recently, an Orleans County judge issued a temporary restraining order against the pipeline, halting construction in Orleans County. Meanwhile, the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has ordered GCEDC to halt construction of the sewage pipeline following multiple spills of drilling fluids onto federally protected land.

In attempts to attract heavy industry to STAMP, NY Governor Hochul has awarded $56 million under the Focused Attraction of Shovel-Ready Tracts New York grant program to further STAMP’s development. The Tonawanda Seneca Nation, a federally recognized Indian Nation, has been raising concerns about the STAMP industrial mega site since its inception as it increases threats to the people and culture of the Nation, as well as to birds, fish, deer, water, and the medicinal plants in the Big Woods that border STAMP.

In approving the pipeline meant to incentivize development for STAMP, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the law by failing to consult with the Tonawanda Seneca Nation, failing to properly evaluate the negative effects of the pipeline on the Nation and the environment, and improperly approving the right-of-way.

Fall colors on the Tonawanda Seneca Nation’s land.
Fall colors on the Tonawanda Seneca Nation’s land. (Jon Rieley-Goddard / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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