Tribe reaches settlement on project

Tonawanda Seneca Nation received concessions in exchange for dropping its lawsuit that sought to stop plant near its lands.

The Tonawanda Seneca Nation has ended its legal bid to stop the construction of a new hydrogen fuel facility at a large industrial park in rural Genesee County. 

The Nation announced Friday that it has reached a settlement with the Genesee County Economic Development Center and Plug Power, a hydrogen fuel firm that is planning to build a $264 million plant at the 1,250-acre Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park, located just east of the Nation’s territory in the Town of Alabama.  The plant would be built with subsidies worth $4 million per job.

Under the settlement, Tonawanda Seneca leaders said 200 acres of land next to the Nation’s territory at STAMP will be “permanently protected” from development. In addition, Nation officials said the settlement prohibits Plug Power from using pesticides on the protected lands and that the company has agreed to allow cultural resource monitors to observe the plant’s construction to help identify and protect any “unanticipated cultural resource discoveries.”

In June, the Nation filed a lawsuit in an effort to stop the development of Plug Power’s new plant, which will be built at the STAMP near a wooded area on the Nation’s territory known as the “Big Woods.” In their lawsuit, Nation leaders expressed concern that the project could pose a threat to “property of religious and cultural significance.” A Genesee County judge dismissed the case on procedural ground Sept. 28. Following the ruling, an attorney representing the Nation did not rule out the possibility of an appeal. 

 “Make no mistake; we are opposed to developing a manufacturing megasite adjacent to pristine woods on undeveloped land,” said Kenith Jonathan, Sachem Chief for the Wolf Clan of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation and keeper of the Western Door. 

“While we are disappointed that the construction will go forward, this settlement includes important protections to reduce the impact on our Nation and to protect our way of life,” he said. “We are hopeful that the agreement can be the framework for a more collaborative relationship with GCEDC and Plug Power moving forward.”