Navy rejects BIA request for island land

Narragansett Indian Tribe thwarted in latest attempt to gain control of abandoned Aquidneck Island government property

By Chris Barrett/PBN staff
April 6,2010

WASHINGTON – The Department of the Navy has denied a request by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on behalf of the Narragansett Indian Tribe to receive land being abandoned by the Navy on Aquidneck Island.

The Navy plans to leave about 260 acres, which includes the former Navy hospital in Newport, the Navy Lodge in Middletown and a former tank farm in Portsmouth, as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure process.

The bureau had initially requested the land on behalf of the tribe under federal regulations that allow federal agencies first shot at so-called surplus land. In December the bureau dropped its request before reversing course in a February letter.

In an April 5 letter from the U.S. Navy, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Jackalyne Pfannenstiel rejected the bureau’s latest request.

Pfannenstiel said the bureau’s request for a waiver from having to pay fair market value for the land would “not be consistent with federal policy” and contradict requirements set out under a presidential executive order.

But Pfannenstiel did not close the door entirely on the tribe receiving the land, saying it could seek the land through the public conveyance option, which allows certain groups to apply for portions of the land before private developers.

The Aquidneck Island Planning Commission, which has spent years outlining a vision for the land, hailed the decision.

“This action paves the way for the communities of Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth to resume work with their designated representatives on the Aquidneck Island Reuse Planning Authority,” commission Executive Director Tina Dolen said.

The commission expects the authority to be named the local redevelopment agency, giving it wide power to decide the future of the land.

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