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Oklahoma governor asks Chickasaw, Choctaw nations to dismiss water lawsuit

Gov. Mary Fallin says an ongoing mediation process is the best way to resolve disputes between Oklahoma and the tribes. The federal lawsuit filed by the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations asks a federal judge stop Oklahoma's plan to sell water storage rights to Sardis Lake to Oklahoma City.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT AND ANDREW KNITTLE Published: February 3, 2012
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Mediation offer stands

Fallin wrote that before mediation with the tribes began, the state repeatedly told tribal officials that if they would agree to dismiss the lawsuit without prejudice, which preserves their ability to refile it, the state would not initiate the adjudication. Instead, the state would continue to mediate the dispute with the same mediator, and under the same mediation rules, for as long as talks were productive.

“That offer still stands,” Fallin wrote.

The governor earlier told reporters of her desire for talks with the tribes to continue, but they have to be fair to the state and citizens of Oklahoma.

“I hope that we can continue on mediating, talking, trying to keep the dispute out of the court system and move it more into mediation,” Fallin said. “I think that's what's in the best interest of the state. Certainly it would cost a lot of money to go into a long, protracted legal fight in the court system.

“If at some point they decide they don't want to mediate on their lawsuit against the people of Oklahoma, then I am fully prepared to do everything I can to represent the state's water interests and the people of Oklahoma and their water interests.”

Tribes work on regional plans

Pyle and Anoatubby last week issued a joint statement saying they hoped to work with state leaders to develop a water plan “that meets the needs of urban and rural Oklahoma while maintaining the environmental health of the state's rivers, streams and lakes.” Faced with the possibility of prolonged litigation, leaders of both tribes have repeatedly expressed a preference to settle their differences with the state through negotiation, the statement said.

“The Nations have no desire to challenge existing permitted uses of water by any Oklahoman,” Pyle said. “Rather, the lawsuit filed against state officials and Oklahoma City was designed to ensure that our rights are taken into account in any future plan to remove additional water from our historic homelands.”

The Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations said in the statement they are working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a regional water plan.

“We call on state leaders to work with us to develop a sustainable water management plan for the greater good of all Oklahomans,” Anoatubby said. “We firmly believe that state and tribal leaders can resolve our differences through negotiation instead of proceeding with the general stream adjudication process.”


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