The U.S. Army and Navy base on Adak Island is seen in 1943, during World War II, in this National Park Service photo. Adak is now home to dozens of contaminated sites, and the state of Alaska has filed a lawsuit that seeks to have the federal government take responsibility for cleaning sites on Adak and across Alaska. (Photo provided by the National Park Service)

The U.S. Army and Navy base on Adak Island is seen in 1943, during World War II, in this National Park Service photo. Adak is now home to dozens of contaminated sites, and the state of Alaska has filed a lawsuit that seeks to have the federal government take responsibility for cleaning sites on Adak and across Alaska. (Photo provided by the National Park Service)

Judge dismisses lawsuit over liability for contaminated Alaska Native corporation lands

A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a year-old lawsuit by the state of Alaska against the federal government over liability for contaminated land given to Alaska Native corporations under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

No Alaska Native corporations or Native groups joined the lawsuit, and in an order published July 18, Judge Hezekiah Russel Holland found multiple problems with the state’s arguments, ultimately ruling that they should be dismissed with prejudice.

The state had argued that three prior acts of Congress required the Department of the Interior to deal with contaminated sites, formerly owned by the federal government, that were given to Native corporations.

Attorneys representing the Department of the Interior disagreed, saying those laws only required the federal government to identify contaminated sites and come up with plans for cleaning them up. They did that.

Holland agreed with the federal attorneys’ arguments, concluding, “Defendants were under no directive to undertake remediation of contaminated lands, nor to implement a plan for such remediation.”

In a written statement, state Attorney General Treg Taylor said the state is considering an appeal.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to distribute $20 million in grants intended to clean up contaminated Native corporation-owned sites. The estimated cost to clean all the sites is in the tens of billions of dollars.

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at alaskabeacon.com. Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

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