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Cayuga's road request rejected

Thursday, September 24, 2009 12:31 PM CDT

WATERLOO — The Public Works Committee of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors gently but firmly rejected the Cayuga Indian Nation’s request Tuesday to add 11.4 miles of local roads to the tribe’s 2010 “Indian Reservation Road Inventory.”
Committee members and other supervisors said granting the request could indicate that the board thinks the Cayugas have a reservation in the county. And from their perspective, that’s a problem.
“We don’t believe there is a reservation in Seneca County,” said Robert Shipley, R-Waterloo, committee chairman. “So how can there be reservation roads in Seneca County?”
Committee member Lee Davidson, R-Lodi, agreed.
“I would only consider this if it was clear there is not a reservation here. And based on past history, that’s not going to happen,” he said.
“I’m being honest with you: I don’t want you to waste your time,” he told Justin Bennett, the  executive director of the Nation’s division of housing.
The Nation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs hired WHPacific engineers, architects, surveyors and planners of Albuquerque, N.M., to prepare the road request. It was submitted to Seneca County Highway Superintendent Roy Gates in May.
The roads are mostly in Seneca Falls, with some in Fayette. They are within or border the 29 acres of land owned by the tribe in Seneca County.
The New Mexico firm submitted a sample letter for county officials to sign. It states that the county owns the roads listed and is responsible for maintenance now and in the future.
It says Seneca County grants permission to the Cayuga Indian Nation to include the roads in its Indian Reservation Road Inventory.
“Should funding and tribal priorities allow, improvements to such roadways may be made through a cooperative process between the tribe and Seneca County,” it states.
The document does not grant jurisdiction, ownership or any authority over the roads to the tribe, and it states that no improvement will take place until Seneca County grants permission.
Bennett told the committee that the tribe receives federal money for road improvements, as does the county.

“We can put our two pots of money together and get more done,” Bennett said.
He acknowledged that the two disagree on the reservation issue. But he said the two can still collaborate.
Bennett said the county must sign the letter for the project to work. 
The letter said the county owns and maintains those roads.
“This doesn’t change title or jurisdiction,” Bennett said.
But county officials would not budge.
County Attorney Frank Fisher said the county’s endorsement of the road inventory letter would “concede the existence of a reservation.”
“I agree. I’d like to work with you — but only if you pay taxes and follow laws,” Shipley said.
In response to a question, Bennett said more road improvements could help spur economic development for the Nation and county.
“If  business grows, infrastructure must grow and improve to meet that  demand,” he said.
Bennett said he had hoped to end up with an agreement on the road inventory but thanked the committee for hearing the proposal.
“I didn’t think I’d get this far,” he said.
Bennett said he is committed to finding ways for the Cayugas and local officials to work together, as is done elsewhere, to improve the local economy.
“Maybe in the future,” he said.
Shipley said the Cayuga’s convenience stores do not pay sales tax on cigarettes and gasoline sales, hurting local businesses.
Later, Bennett said he was pleased with the tone of the conversation, even though there was no agreement.
In a related matter, the board was notified that Robert Kiernan, a lawyer for Gov. David Paterson, had written to Fisher to tell him that the state does not think it should reimburse Seneca and Cayuga counties for legal fees in connection with the pending cigarette sales tax litigation.
The Harris Beach law firm submitted a bill to the two counties for some $191,000, with additional bills expected.
Fisher said he will consult with Cayuga County before deciding on the next step to take.
Included in the Nation’s request were 1.5 miles of Garden Street Extension, 1.1 miles of Thorpe Road, 1.8 miles of Farron Road, 1.3 miles of Noble Road, 1.3 miles of Peterman Road, 2.4 miles of King’s Corners Road and 2 miles of County Road 124.