Tribe Applauds Settlement of Lawsuit

Area of Expertise: Natural Resources

Channel of Wind River to be Restored to Northern Arapaho

Ben Neary

Associated Press

The Northern Arapaho Tribe is applauding a legal settlement that calls for a Fremont County irrigation district and its former manager to restore the channel of the Wind River west of Riverton.

U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne this week approved an agreement that specifies four dikes installed by the LeClair Irrigation District and its former district manager John Hubenka must be removed by the end of the year.

The settlement comes more than 20 years after the federal government first issued civil citations regarding placement of material into the river.  Officials say the dikes pushed the Wind River onto lands of the Wind River Indian Reservation.  The Northern Arapaho  and Eastern Shoshone tribes share the reservation.

“We are pleased about the result that has been achieved here,” Northern Arapaho Chairman Dean Goggles said in a prepared release.  “Abuses of the Wind River are a violation of tribal sovereignty.  We look forward to healing these wounds, and taking a lead role in the restoration of tribal lands.”

Johnson’s Order specifies that the LeClair Irrigation District’s insurance company will pay the Northern Arapaho Tribe to cover the costs of removing the largest of four dikes in the river and return the river to its historic northern channel.

Hubenka must remove three smaller dikes that be built that extend into the river channel.  Johnson imposed a $42,500 penalty on Hubenka, but said it will drop to $4,250 if he removes the three dikes by the Dec. 15 deadline.

Hubenka was convicted of criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act in 2004 for placing materials in the Wind River.  In an order two years ago, Johnson wrote that Hubenka had ignored an earlier court order to remove the materials and said Hubenka has, “defiantly thumbed his nose at the law.”

Daniel B. Frank, a Cheyenne lawyer representing Hubenka, said Thursday that Hubenka will be happy when the legal matter is resolved and work completed.

“He’s committed to doing what he’s agreed to do, and I’m glad that all the other parties to this case have consented to the settlement we devised,” Frank said. “And it’s about as good as we could do considering the circumstances.”

Frank said Hubenka viewed the three smaller dikes that he installed in the river channel as projects to benefit wildlife.  He said beavers would add logs to the dikes until high run-off events would clear the material out.  “Bad idea,” Frank said. “But he thought he was doing a good thing at the time.”

Hubenka has lined up a contractor to remove the dikes, Frank said.  He said the work will occur under the supervision of the Indian Tribes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Hubenka issued an apology to the Northern Arapaho Tribe and pledged not to trespass on reservation lands.

Cheyenne lawyer Harriet Hagemen represents the irrigation district.  Her office said Thursday she was not available for comment.  An attempt to reach a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne, which represented the federal government in the case, was not immediately successful.