Newport News to pay Mattaponi $650,000 in reservoir lawsuit 4-11-07

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) - City officials have two weeks to pay the Mattaponi Indian Tribe $650,000 as settlement in a 10yearold lawsuit that stemmed from the controversial King William reservoir, officials announced this week.

The city will pay the tribe as a compromise to resolve the disputes concerning the tribe's water rights that date back to a 1677 treaty.

It clears the way for the reservoir project, stalled by battles with Indian leaders and environmentalists as the city paid millions in legal fees.

In February, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging a decision letting Newport News to continue work on the 12.2billiongallon reservoir.

Mattaponi leaders filed suit to challenge the Virginia State Water Control Board's permit for the project in 1998.

The matter had been set to go to trial in June - potentially costing the city $800,000 in fees for attorneys and expert witnesses, according to Mayor Joe S. Frank.

``We were getting ready to spend a lot of money,'' he said. ``Getting it settled saves us a lot.''

Newport News Waterworks has worked for more than a decade toward building the reservoir, which developers say would address longrange water needs for the Peninsula.

Construction of the reservoir was originally expected in 2011.

Newport News officials began looking for a supplemental water supply in 1987.

Leaders of the Mattaponi tribe, which has a reservation along the Mattaponi River in King William County, argue the reservoir would encroach on a threemile buffer around its property that is protected by the 1677 treaty.

They also worry it would flood cultural sites near the reservation and that siphoning water away would damage the tribe's fishing and hunting culture.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, argue the proposed reservoir is oversized and would harm wetlands.

In the event the reservoir is built, the tribe and the city ``desire to be good neighbors,'' according to a joint statement released Tuesday by the City Council.

Under the terms of the agreement, the tribe and the city will work together in good faith to resolve other issues concerning the reservoir and the tribe won't file any additional suits to challenge the project under the treaty or any Virginia law.