WALKER-The Cass County Board voted Tuesday, July 2, to send a letter of support for Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe's application to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be treated the same as a state for water quality standards determination.

The federal Clean Water Act authorizes federally recognized American Indian reservations to make such applications, which will enable Leech Lake to issue future permits under that act for discharging materials into a waterway.

Without treatment like a state status, people applying for such federal permits on the reservation must apply directly to the federal government.

States, however, have authority to directly issue permits.

Ben Benoit, Leech Lake environmental director, said Leech Lake has had regulatory rules in place for the last 20 years. Its water regulations generally mirror Cass County's, he said.

Currently, his office plans to analyze existing water quality in lakes within its boundaries. The reservation overlaps much of the northern third of Cass County.

If the EPA accepts Leech Lake's application for processing, the reservation would have three years to draft its own water quality rules to stand in place of the EPA's.

Nothing would change in the process for local zoning, which Cass County currently administers. The change would mainly apply to applications now requiring a federal water quality permit and actually will make it more consistent with the Water Quality Act, according to County Administrator Joshua Stevenson.

On another issue, Benoit mentioned current activity concerning the St. Regis Paper Company Superfund site at Cass Lake.

That business treated power poles with creosote and other chemicals in the city of Cass Lake for many years. International Paper Company now owns what was St. Regis.

Chemicals used to treat the poles seeped into the soil in a large residential and commercial area of the city. Some soil has been removed and stored in an on-site holding area, but contamination remains in the soil and groundwater, Benoit said.

Because many people living in the homes became ill, most of them moved out of the area. That led to many properties going tax-forfeited. A large area of the city remains vacant.

The city has bought some lots. International Paper has purchased others.

Benoit said the soil is believed to be contaminated down about 9 feet. Groundwater is about 6 feet down. When it has been pumped out, no clean water has been found yet, he said.

There will be a 6 p.m. July 30 public hearing at Cass Lake Elementary School on this issue. Several county board members plan to attend.