Infrastructure plan would use disputed gambling funds
The Cuomo administration is floating a plan it says will help kick start two stalled road and bridge rehabilitation projects in Western New York delayed because of a money dispute between the state and Seneca Nation of Indians.
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#1 Aug 2, 2012
Updated: August 2, 2012, 8:29 AM
ALBANY - The Cuomo administration is floating a plan it says will help kick start two stalled road and bridge rehabilitation projects in Western New York delayed because of a money dispute between the state and Seneca Nation of Indians.
But, in perhaps a sign of just how bad relations are between the two sides, the Cuomo administration's offer seeks to settle the road feuds by dipping into funds from an entirely different dispute with the Senecas.
Anxious to get work going during the summer construction season, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is offering to let slide what the state says is a $3.4 million argument with the Senecas involving two delayed road projects: rehabilitating part of the Southern Tier Expressway and replacing an aging bridge on Routes 5 and 20 over the Cattaraugus Creek south of Buffalo.
Both projects - with a combined cost of more than $40 million - run through Seneca reservation lands.
But the Senecas, the state says, can obtain the $3.4 million the tribe wants as administrative fees for the two state road projects by dipping into a growing pot of funds - now totaling more than $400 million - the Senecas still owe the state for skipping revenue sharing proceeds from its three Western New York casinos.
The Seneca Nation already had plans to hold a news conference today blasting the governor for delaying work on the state bridge on its Cattaraugus reservation - a span they argue is at risk of becoming dangerously dilapidated.
Cuomo administration sources said the offer is being made to get the repairs under way and hire hundreds of workers - 450 alone at the Southern Tier Expressway job, also known as Interstate 86. Union leaders recently called on the state to settle the dispute.
Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter, through a spokesman, declined comment Wednesday evening because he had not yet been notified of the state's proposal.
#2 Aug 2, 2012
As if the two road disagreements were not enough, they are relatively minor - dollar wise - compared to the unresolved fights over Indian retailer cigarette sales and casino gambling proceeds that is increasingly squeezing the cities of Niagara Falls and Salamanca.
The state had previously described the Seneca attempt to get the state to pay them for a piece of the federal funding for the Southern Tier Expressway project as a glorified shakedown.
But Seneca officials say the practice by which the tribe charges the state an administrative fee - to cover the costs for such things as monitoring the work done on the state's behalf by road contractors on sovereign Indian land - goes back to a 1993 rule adopted by the Senecas and adhered to by the state until this year.
The Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance - requires a 3.5 percent administrative fee on state projects done on Seneca land. The Senecas said year-long talks with the administration ended in May when state officials said they would no longer honor such payments.
But the heads of the state Thruway Authority and Transportation Department, in a May letter to Porter, called the Seneca position "an unprecedented demand" for money from routine maintenance by the state of its existing roads.
"We are ready to do this $29 million project and have notified the contractor to be prepared to deploy personnel and equipment to get the job done before the close of this construction season. This project will bring badly needed upgrades to this important highway, creating hundreds of jobs in the process. We want to get this done," a Cuomo administration source said Wednesday of the expressway project.
That project, funded with federal dollars, totals $28.5 million. The state transportation department had previously estimated the cost of the Routes 5 and 20 bridge project at $16 million. It is uncertain, if the Seneca demand is for 3.5 percent of those dollars, why the state's estimate of a total $3.4 million is higher than the projected share.
The stalled revenue-sharing payments from the tribe's three casinos - in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca - is a dispute that goes back to the administration of former Gov. David A. Paterson.
The Senecas stopped paying a previously agreed to share to New York - which then shares a portion with local "host" communities - when it declared the state breached the terms of its memorandum of understanding, signed a decade ago by then Gov. George E. Pataki, by permitting banned forms of new gambling competition within Western New York, including slot-like devices at area racetracks.
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