ONAMIA - Later this month, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe will begin seeking public comment on its proposed brownfield cleanup standards.

These standards will formalize the requirements for cleaning up pollution-contaminated soils, groundwater, surface water and sediments on band lands.

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"The Mille Lacs Band does not have a lot of contaminated lands - that is not the issue," Curt Kalk, Mille Lacs Band commissioner of natural resources, said in a news release. "The issue is that when we do identify a contaminated area, or if an accident occurs and pollutants are released, we want to be as prepared as possible to clean up the brownfield area. Having approved cleanup standards in place will help ensure readiness."

Brownfields have been an emerging focus of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and states since the 1980s. By definition, brownfields are idle, abandoned or underused industrial and commercial properties where environmental contamination complicates redevelopment or expansion. Some brownfields are cleaned up through the "Superfund," the EPA program to clean up hazardous waste sites, while the vast majority are cleaned up under state and tribal authority. In Minnesota, the state authority is the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The Mille Lacs Band was among the first American Indian tribes in the nation to develop a brownfield program when, in 2002, it received its first brownfield 128(a) grant. Funding comes from a noncompetitive federal grant program known as 128(a), which helps states and tribes implement and enhance their own brownfield programs. Since the Band started its Brownfield 128(a) Program, it has worked with the MPCA to clean up contaminated sites on Band lands.

"As a self-governing tribe and as an Ojibwe culture based on caring for the environment, the Mille Lacs Band wants to take a leadership role in cleaning up any brownfields under our jurisdiction," Kalk said. "This makes good sense, and having our own cleanup standards is the next logical step."

The Mille Lacs Band is one of the first tribes in the nation to develop its own environmental cleanup standards. The band will continue to work with the MPCA and EPA regarding cleanup project oversight, inspection and enforcement, but the band will administer its own standards and supervise the cleanups.

The Mille Lacs Band's proposed standards call for cleanups to result in returning contaminated areas to their original, pristine state, unless otherwise indicated. This approach enables the land to be used for any future purpose, including housing or cultural uses.

The standards apply to air, water, land, and natural resources in territories subject to Mille Lacs Band jurisdiction or to lands that are voluntarily entered into the Brownfield 128(a) Program either by the landowners or, potentially, the parties responsible for the contamination.

The public may offer comments on the Band's brownfield cleanup standards for a period of 60 days beginning on Aug. 17. More details will follow in the legal notice explaining the comment period.