The Tonawanda Seneca Nation’s Fight to Protect the Big Woods and stop STAMP
By Margaret Wooster (WNY Environmental Alliance) with Sarah Howard (Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation + Allies of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation) June 16, 2023
One of Western New York’s Greatest Treasures
One of Western New York’s greatest treasures is a 20,000-acre wetland-grassland complex located mainly in the Town of Alabama, and locally known as “Alabama Swamp.” It is also known as the Sixth Great Lake, a glacial lake now largely underground but surfacing in the plentiful streams and pools that make this watery landscape essential to the many reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds who live or pass through, especially during spring migration.
Home to the Tonawanda Seneca Nation
This area is also home to the Tonawanda Seneca Nation, a federally recognized Nation and part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The extraordinary biodiversity of this area is in large part a testament to their ongoing stewardship and reciprocal relationship with the more-than-human beings who also call this place home.
An Existential Threat
But now, this place, and the Tonawanda Seneca Nation itself, faces an existential threat to their well-being. The Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC) has purchased 1,260 acres of habitat and farmland to build a Science and Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park (STAMP) adjacent to the Nation’s territory. The site is also located within a few miles of multiple state and federally protected areas, including the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and the John White Wildlife Management Area.
The STAMP Plan
The STAMP plan capitalizes on federal and state subsidies for microchip fabrication. To date, however, its only tenant is Plug Power, a hydrogen fuel cell manufacturer whose product will have to be trucked many miles to market, undermining its justification as “green power.”
Two other possible developers – semiconductor producer Edwards Vacuum and the warehouse developer Scannell Project – would pave or build over the site’s northern 600-plus acres and bring an extra 140 cars and diesel trucks per hour up the narrow country road that leads to the refuge and through the Nation.
However, the Tonawanda Seneca Nation and their allies, including other local residents and numerous environmental organizations, are fighting back against this industrial development. In February, the GCEDC applied for a “Full Campus Incidental Take Permit” that would allow them to remove habitat for endangered and threatened wildlife species known to occupy the site, including the Short-Eared Owl and the Northern Harrier Hawk. In response to the hundreds of letters it received from the public about this permit, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) required the GCEDC to hold a public hearing, which took place on May 11 in the town of Basom.
More than 185 people attended the hearing. All 49 who spoke were opposed to the permit and the majority expressed opposition to the entire STAMP project. Speaking in opposition were numerous members of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation, including titleholders, as well as allies from groups including the Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, Sierra Club, Save Ontario Shores, SUNY ESF, University of Rochester, Western New York Environmental Alliance and the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York. In the words of Tonawanda Seneca Nation Sub-Chief Scott Logan (Bear Clan),
“If this permit were to be granted, it would be an immense injustice to Mother Earth. And as a Haudenosaunee person, and all the Haudenosaunee People in here, that is our birthright. It is our, what we are here for, is to protect the earth. And the STAMP Project goes a hundred percent against what we are — what we’re all about.”
Undermining the Tonawanda Seneca Nation’s Sovereignty
The STAMP site is located immediately adjacent to the Nation’s present-day reservation boundaries. Indeed, the most intensive manufacturing will be located along the project’s border with the Nation. However, as their Council of Chiefs has repeatedly stated in public comment letters and letters to agencies responsible for granting permits sought by the developers, the project’s approval process has continuously and egregiously undermined the Nation’s sovereignty. In violation of their status as a federally recognized Tribal Nation, the Tonawanda Band of Seneca’s Council of Chiefs – their traditional governance structure – has not been afforded a robust consultation process in decision-making about the project. Instead, opportunities for consultation have been perfunctory at best, and have focused almost exclusively on mitigation.
Response from the Council of Chiefs
In their official letter to the NYDEC regarding the proposed Part 182 Take Permit (mentioned above), the Nation’s Council of Chiefs wrote that,
“The Tonawanda Seneca Nation opposes this habitat destruction and would directly be impacted by it. The permit would allow for unmitigated incidental take on Nation lands when, inevitably, increased human presence, noise, excavation, light and traffic would disturb these species and turn them away… We do not want our Territory, people or future generations to be burdened by the negative impacts of these projects. This is a human rights issue for the Tonawanda Seneca Nation and the Haudenosaunee, who would bear a disproportionate burden from the industrialization of the land at STAMP.”
The Council of Chiefs has demanded that a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be carried out to assess the possible impacts on the Nation, its culture and its environment; to date there has been no such study and the 2012 STAMP EIS (which did not analyze impacts on the nation) is badly outdated. Read their full statement here. As they await a decision on the Part 182 permit, the Tonawanda Seneca Nation and allies continue their fight against STAMP on numerous fronts. To stay informed and to take action in support, fill out this form or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
August 3, 2023 Update: The Allies of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation have a website where they post actions and updates.