Saturday, May 30, 2009

Trenton and Indian tribe form 'green' alliance

Trenton and Indian tribe form 'green' alliance
May 30, 2009

TRENTON (NJ) -- Mayor Douglas Palmer has found a new and unlikely partner in his efforts to create green technology jobs and redevelop state-owned properties: an American Indian tribe from Oklahoma.

The president of the Delaware Nation, a 1,400-member tribe that owns a casino and has ancestral roots in the Delaware River Valley, joined Palmer and entrepreneur Shelley Zeiger at the Trenton Marriott yesterday to announce the alliance.

Wearing a bolo tie and a long gray ponytail, tribal president Kerry Holton said Zeiger had been talking to the tribe for years. He said he decided to act now because of the opportunities provided by the federal economic recovery act.

"It comes down to timing," said Holton, who was elected in 2006. "The economic downturn has essentially created a level playing field for our small, emerging nation."

He said the Obama administration's clean energy initiatives have allowed the tribe to enter into clean energy businesses that have created more jobs in Oklahoma than it can staff. A third of the tribe's members live in Oklahoma, he said.

Holton was drawn to Trenton by Zeiger, a city booster who co-developed the Marriott in 2002, and by the tribe's roots in the Lenape Indian nation that lived along the Delaware River until treaties and wars drove it west in the 18th century.

"They have embraced the idea of bringing the Delaware Nation home," said Zeiger, who is serving as a consultant to the tribe and may invest in a future project. "This is their real home, their original home."

The three men offered few details of their plans, but said they have discussed building a factory to manufacture solar panels or energy-efficient building materials on a city-owned tract in the Duck Island area off Route 129.

"We have a number of projects on the drawing board," Zeiger said. "Nothing is concrete."

Another possibility is a partnership to establish a center for high-tech telecommunications, Holton said. The tribe would take advantage of federal funds earmarked for Native American economic development projects.

"They're looking at doing something major as well, that has great impact," Palmer said, without giving details.

In a press release, Holton said the tribe is interested in property currently used for surface parking lots in the city's downtown. Palmer has for years lobbied the state, which does not pay city property taxes, to allow Trenton to develop state employee parking lots near the river into residential and commercial neighborhoods.

As a federally recognized tribe, the Delaware Nation is also tax exempt, but would make an agreement with the city for some kind of compensation, said Joseph Wiley, a senior vice president of Sadat Associates, an environmental engineering firm whose Lamberton Road office houses the Delaware Nation's local office.

In Oklahoma, the tribe has environmentally friendly geothermal and biomass energy projects, and could sponsor solar or wind energy projects in Trenton, Holton said. But he and Palmer made it clear they will not propose building a casino.

"Casinos are not on the radar screen," Holton said.

At the end of the press conference the two men signed a memorandum of agreement between the tribe and the city, which Palmer said was important given possible leadership changes in the future. Palmer and several City Council members are expected to leave office after next May's city elections.

Holton and other tribe officials also gave Palmer and assistant business manager Dennis Gonzalez plastic bags full of tobacco, which is traditionally used by American Indians during religious ceremonies.

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