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    Friday, January 27, 2023

    Preston selectmen approve legal costs to fight proposed Congressional bill on tribal land trusts

    Preston — The Board of Selectmen Thursday unanimously approved a request for $2,000 as the town's share in a legal effort to change language in a draft Congressional bill that could immediately take the land the Mashantucket Pequot tribe wanted to put into trust in Ledyard, Preston and North Stonington in 1995 off town tax rolls permanently, an attorney representing the towns told town leaders.

    Ledyard and North Stonington already have voted to approve the $2,000 per town request from the Perkins Coie law firm in Washington, D.C., to cover what attorney Donald C. Baur described as a potential “quick fix” to a proposed bill by California Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein addressing land trusts and Indian gaming.

    Baur explained in a two-page memo to leaders of the three towns that a likely inadvertent consequence of the bill could be that the land trust request the Mashantucket tribe later withdrew would be enacted permanently and without the chance of appeal. The federal government initially approved the request but legal challenges were cut short when the tribe withdrew the request.

    “If this provision (in the bill) is enacted, all of the land subject to that 1995 decision in Ledyard, North Stonington, and Preston would go into trust immediately by act of Congress and could not be challenged in court or withdrawn,” Baur wrote.

    Baur said the draft version of the bill would ratify “any previous action” by the federal government to take land into trust, including the 1995 Mashantucket request. The federal government approved the tribe's request, but the tribe withdrew its request before property transactions took place.

    If that meaning is inadvertent, Baur told the towns, the legal cost to revise the language should be a total of $5,000 to $6,000. If more effort is needed to change the language, it could cost $15,000 to $20,000.

    Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon said only about a quarter acre of the 1995 Mashantucket land trust request lies in Preston. Three other large parcels of land the tribe owns along Route 2 in Preston would remain full taxable, Congdon said.

    Despite the relatively small impact on Preston, the town has participated with Ledyard and North Stonington — where much larger portions of the trust request land lie — since the towns joined forces and hired Perkins Coie 25 years ago to fight land annexation issues.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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