EDITOR’S NOTE: The Mercury made the post below this morning, referencing reporting by NC Policy Watch. Since then, several edits and corrections have been made to the Policy Watch story. The Mercury’s post has been edited to reflect those changes.
American Indian tribes along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route, including two Virginia tribes, were offered $1 million each in exchange for agreeing to refrain from opposing the 600-mile natural gas project.
The report comes from NC Policy Watch, which like The Mercury, is part of the Newsroom network of sites covering government and policy in state capitals. Policy Watch obtained a draft version of a confidential settlement agreement between the pipeline, which is spearheaded by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, and the tribes, which include the Lumbee and the Haliwa-Saponi in North Carolina, as well as the Monacan and the Rappahannock in Virginia.
Cultural Heritage Partners, which has offices in Richmond, New York and Washington, was involved in the settlement negotiations, with some members of the Haliwa-Saponi and the Lumbee telling Policy Watch that in mid-June 2018, Cultural Heritage Partners co-founder Greg Werkheiser pressured them to to sign the agreement or risk losing protection for their cultural artifacts, Policy Watch reported.
Werkhesier has said the original Policy Watch report contained numerous factual errors.
“Your story gets it completely wrong,” he said. “My firm, Cultural Heritage Partners, was engaged by two federally recognized Indian tribes to represent them in seeking from Dominion a solution to the tribes’ concerns — not the other way around. Contrary to your characterization of the tribes as helpless groups easily taken advantage of, our clients are sophisticated sovereign nations who hired legal counsel to assert their rights and who can decide for themselves how best to protect their heritage.”
Policy Watch says it has “corrected any language that says CHP was directly responsible for the offer — that offer came from Dominion, with CHP presenting the document to the tribes.”
It also “removed any language that could have been interpreted to imply that CHP represented Dominion in these matters.”
In a statement via email to Policy Watch, Dominion Energy spokesman Aaron Ruby declined to elaborate on the agreement or its connection to CHP.
“We have a profound respect for tribal communities and their history in this region, and we’ve built strong relationships with them based on trust and mutual respect,” he wrote in the statement. “Out of respect for the tribes and our relationship, we will not discuss our ongoing consultations. We value their perspective, and we’ve made a sincere effort to address their concerns.”