A federal appeals court revived a lawsuit yesterday by members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe that seeks to block a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal on the Pleasant Point reservation in eastern Maine.
A three-judge panel of the First US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal judge's ruling that project opponents lacked legal standing to sue the Bureau of Indian Affairs for its 2005 approval of a lease of tribal land at Split Rock to Oklahoma developer Quoddy Bay LLC.
The appeals court also found that the claims by the group Nulankeyutmonen Nkihtaqmikon (We Protect Our Homeland) were ripe for review and need not be deferred, even though construction of the LNG terminal is not guaranteed.
In his ruling in November, Judge John Woodcock suggested that the lawsuit was premature and would be more timely if filed after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission completed an environmental review of the project to assess its potential environmental risks.
But the appeals panel said the focus of the case was whether the Bureau of Indian Affairs followed federal law before approving the 50-year lease.
"The dispute before us is not over the hypothetical construction and operation of an LNG terminal, but the allegedly improper approval of the lease that is the prerequisite to the terminal," the court said.
"While the construction of the terminal is hypothetical and uncertain at this juncture, the approval of the lease is complete," it said. "The BIA has made its decision."
The plaintiffs oppose the project for fear it will transform a beach site with historic, cultural, religious, and recreational significance into an industrial zone that would no longer be accessible by tribal members.
In finding that the tribal group has legal standing, the appeals panel cited its interest in the lands and environment surrounding Split Rock.