The U.S. attorney's office filed a lawsuit Monday against a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation for allegedly dumping construction, demolition and landscaping materials into wetlands on tribal lands in the Town of Southampton.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Central Islip, said that Gordon Smith Sr. damaged the wetlands' ability to perform its ecological functions, which include serving as a wildlife habitat, protecting the shoreline from erosion and improving the water quality at nearby Heady Creek.
Smith, the lawsuit added, did not apply for a permit to discharge the materials. Also, he has not responded to the federal government's request for information on the dumping as well as an order to restore the damaged area of wetlands, the lawsuit said.
The government is asking the court to order Smith to pay a fine, stop dumping into the wetlands, and restore the wetlands at his own expense under the supervision of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Smith, 63, said his land is on tribal lands and the U.S. government has no right to make any demands regarding it.
"We are a sovereign nation," Smith said. "I have my tribal rights to the edge of the water. Our land was stolen. I have my right to do what I do."
Smith said he moved concrete to build up a 200-foot-long barrier, about 4 feet high, along his shoreline to prevent flooding of his property.
In its lawsuit, the U.S. Attorney's Office said that Smith started dumping bricks, gravel, dirt, rebar and concrete into the wetlands in 2013, and that the Environmental Protection Agency performed an inspection in 2016 at the request of the Council for the Shinnecock Nation.
Shinnecock Nation officials said they attempted to resolve the matter with Smith, but he refused to comply, according to court papers. The officials then requested the federal government use its enforcement powers, the papers said.
Officials said the debris encompassed one-tenth of an acre of the Shinnecock Wetlands.
The lawsuit said that the Clean Water Act's jurisdiction encompasses "navigable waters," which are defined as "waters of the United States."
It added, "The Shinnecock Wetlands and Heady Creek are waters of the United States."