Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Attorney: Water District Fight about Other State-versus-Tribe Issues

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Attorney: Water District Fight about Other State-versus-Tribe Issues

Article excerpt

OKLAHOMA CITY - The state is hassling a tribe about the rural water district it operates because of other legal issues between the two, an attorney for the water district said Friday.

Oklahoma's attorney general sued Pottawatomie County Rural Water District No. 3 this year, alleging it encroached on state rights of way without permission. Attorneys have also argued that the Citizen Potawatomi Nation is barred by law from operating the district.

According to its request for declaratory judgement, the state wants CPN to get approval before expanding water district assets on state land.

Water district attorney Steven Harris told District Judge Don Andrews that he will bring up other state-versus-tribe issues as part of his defense.

"A horrific fight broke out between the state of Oklahoma and CPN, and they were threatening to shut down (tribal-owned) businesses," Harris said. "What did they do in the very same year?"

That year, 2014, is when the Oklahoma Department of Transportation halted all permits from the district to lay water pipe through state rights of way.

"I would submit that part of the motivation behind what is going on today and what's happening in this courtroom is that the state has been on a mission to create as much grief as it possibly can for CPN," Harris said. "This is simply just another aspect of that campaign."

The fight began when state authorities said a grocery store run by the tribe owed millions in unpaid sales taxes. An arbitrator ruled in April that the state cannot force CPN to collect sales tax from nonmembers at its retail businesses, and a federal court affirmed the decision in June. That seemed to end a months-long battle over tribal sovereignty and Oklahoma's right to regulate tribes' retail operations, including alcohol sales, but the state has signaled its intent to appeal. …

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