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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of North Carolina

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, September 29, 2016

Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC Agrees To Pay $1.7 Million As Part Of Settlement Reached By the Company With The United States And The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

Week-Long Fire Burned over 2,300 Acres of Tribal Forest Lands in 2009

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – A settlement has been reached by the United States and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) with Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC (Duke Energy) regarding a fire that burned over 2,300 acres of Tribal forest lands in the Big Cove area, announced the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina and Principal Chief Patrick Lambert of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

The fire started on April 27, 2009 and burned for a week before being extinguished by fire fighters from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the United States Forest Service (USFS), the National Parks Service (NPS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Cherokee Fire Department.

“Today’s settlement provides rightful compensation to EBCI for damage caused to Tribal forests.  A portion of the monetary settlement will also compensate the agencies involved in the suppression of the fire and rehabilitation activities required as a result of the blaze.  This settlement underscores the successful collaboration and continued cooperation between federal and Tribal partners over the course of this case,” said the U.S. Attorney’s Office in a statement today.

“When I took office last year, my priority was the protection and accountability of our Tribal resources.  This includes our lands, our finances, and services to our members.  We have relationships with many local, state and federal agencies that work together to ensure safety and prosperity for the constituents and customers we serve,” said Chief Lambert.  “I thank Duke Energy for that gesture of respect.  We are excited to bring our lands back under our ownership in Trust with the United states.  It is good to know moving forward that we can work together to right any wrongs, and negotiate issues head-on for the public to have resolution,” Chief Lambert added.

As part of the settlement, Duke Energy has agreed to pay $1.7 million dollars, of which $1,210,128 will be paid to EBCI in compensation for damage to Tribal forests. The remaining $489,872 will be paid to federal agencies and the Cherokee Police Department for suppression, enforcement, and rehabilitation costs.  The funds will be distributed among the federal agencies and Cherokee Fire Department based on costs incurred in responding to the fire.

In addition to the monetary settlement, Duke Energy has agreed to convey 35 acres of land located in close proximity to Kituwah, one of the seven Cherokee “Mothertowns” and known as the birthplace of the Cherokee people. In 1996, the EBCI purchased Kituwah, which according to Cherokee history is the place where the first Cherokee man and woman were born.  Duke Energy’s transfer of the 35 acres of land recognizes the importance Kituwah plays in Cherokee culture, heritage, history and identity.  EBCI will protect and preserve Kituwah for future generations.

In making today’s announcement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office commended the teamwork and dedication of the federal agencies and Tribal officials and praised their coordination and outstanding work leading to today’s settlement with Duke Energy.

The Department of Interior, BIA, USFS, NPS, USFWS, the EBCI Office of Attorney General and the Cherokee Fire Department led the investigation. 

Assistant United States Attorneys Gill P. Beck and Brook Andrews with the Western District of North Carolina represented the United States and Hannah Smith, Senior Associate General, represented the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Updated September 29, 2016