Late filing tries to block Kerr Dam transfer

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In this June 8, 2005, file photo Terry McAllister of Bigfork  checks out  Kerr Dam, near Polson, Mont. People with business and conservation interests on the Flathead Indian Reservation are asking a judge to temporarily block federal officials from authorizing the transfer of the hydroelectric dam to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. (Chris Jordan file photo/Daily Inter Lake)

A lawsuit seeking to block Saturday’s transfer of Kerr Dam to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes makes the unusual assertion that the transfer could lead the Turkish government to seek raw nuclear materials on U.S. soil to blow up the dam or other targets.

The lawsuit filed by state Sen. Bob Keenan, former state Sen. Verdell Jackson and Pointer Scenic Cruises seeks an emergency order to block the transfer of the dam from NorthWestern Energy to the tribes on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras did not make an immediate decision on the request following a hearing Friday in Washington, D.C.

Part of the lawsuit contends the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should hold hearings on the tribes’ ability to safely operate the dam, but a large portion of the suit is dedicated to national security concerns.

For several years, the Turkish government and Turkish-American organizations have looked to establish business and cultural exchanges with Native Americans. The government and Turkish-American groups have hosted Native American delegations and have financially supported at least one American Indian project in the U.S.

Keenan, Jackson and Pointer, through their lawyer, Lawrence Kogan, suggest the Turkish government may be seeking to “to more freely promote their brand of Islam on reservations and/or to pursue other potentially more dangerous activities.”

Those other activities could include seeking access to uranium deposits and water sources to produce yellowcake for use in bombs, the lawsuit said.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have expertise in uranium mill tailing cleanups, but they are too gullible or naive to realize the Turks interested in doing business with them may have terrorist ties, the lawsuit claims.

“It is quite possible that the Turkish government, sponsored Turkish business enterprises, and affiliated terrorist groups or members may be seeking access to such expertise for possible acquisition and use of incendiary devices to compromise Kerr dam and/or other off-reservation targets,” the lawsuit says.

G. Lincoln McCurdy, president of the Turkish Council of America, called the lawsuit’s assertions completely false and “pure ugly.”

“There is interest in developing business with Indian Country,” McCurdy said. “But bringing Islamic values and nuclear arms? That’s all totally ridiculous.”

Turkey is a U.S. ally and a member of NATO. “Counterterrorism cooperation is a key element of our strategic partnership,” the U.S. State Department says of Turkey on its website.

The Turkish Council of America has promoted trade in agricultural products and cowhides from Native American tribes to Turkey, though no actual trade has yet been established, McCurdy said.

“Turkey is Muslim. The president and prime minister are very pious Muslims. But they are also very practical businesspeople,” McCurdy said. “Turkey and the U.S. are fighting together against Islamic extremism.”

One of the plaintiffs, Jackson, said he was not aware that Turkey was a U.S. ally or a member of NATO and he downplayed the lawsuit’s national security claims.

“To me, that’s a very minor issue,” he said.

“The tribes are surprised at this lawsuit, considering that we have fulfilled all requirements to satisfy a 30-year-old contract,” the tribe said in a statement, noting the agreement to transfer the operating license to the tribe was finalized in 1985.

In 1985, the federal commission approved an agreement establishing the Montana Power Co. and tribes as joint licensees with a 50-year license. The agreement included an option for the tribe to take full ownership, management and control after 30 years, as long as they gave notice and could pay the conveyance price.

The price was later set at just under $18.3 million.

The tribes are sponsoring a public commemoration of the acquisition of Kerr Dam today at the Salish Kootenai College Joe McDonald gymnasium in Pablo beginning at 10 a.m.

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