By Ms. Moira L Kelley (ASA (CW))June 20, 2016
The Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works is implementing two significant actions that will benefit federally recognized tribes and their communities. Based on tribal input, and in order to continue to uphold the tribal trust responsibility, these actions will expand opportunities for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Indian tribes to partner on water resources projects and activities of mutual interest; such as flood risk management, ecosystem restoration, emergency response, and the protection and management of natural and cultural resources.
The first deals with an authority for the Secretary of the Army to enter into a cooperative agreement with an Indian tribe, or a designated representative of an Indian tribe, to carry out authorized activities of the Corps to protect fish, wildlife, water quality, and cultural resources. Assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, has now delegated that authority to the Corps for implementation at any level of the organization, but primarily at the district level where on the ground project operation and management activities occur. The delegation of this authority will allow Corps divisions and districts to coordinate directly with their local federally-recognized tribes to engage in cooperative agreements that are mutually beneficial to the Corps and tribe. More specifically, these agreements will allow tribes to build economic capacity while working on joint issues with the Corps pertaining to the protection of fish, wildlife, water quality, and cultural resources.
The second action further facilitates better partnerships with tribal nations by deleting an unnecessary clause that in the past was included in a Corps' project partnership agreement, a legally binding agreement between the government and a non-federal sponsor (state, municipal government, flood control district, port authority, etc.) for construction of a water resources project. It describes the project and the responsibilities of the government and the non-federal sponsor in the cost sharing and execution of work.
As a result, important projects that could have benefitted tribal economics and environments, species of significance, or protected tribal communities from floods, were not being planned and constructed. In cases where projects did move forward, a significant amount of time and funds were expended discussing and figuring out how to move forward with the waiver of the sovereign immunity clause in place. The removal of this clause will eliminate a major impediment to tribal and Corps partnerships on water resources project development and implementation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recognizes and supports tribal sovereignty, and will continue to search for ways to involve tribes in activities that build their economic capacity while managing important natural and cultural resources.