Senecas threaten right of way for I-86 5-4-07

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - The Seneca Indian Nation threatened Friday to cancel a 1976 agreement that allowed construction of an expressway through tribal land unless the state agrees to immediate negotiations.

Seneca President Maurice John accused state leaders of failing to comply with some terms of the agreement that allowed New York to use 795 acres on the Allegany Reservation for the Southern Tier Expressway, now Interstate 86.

“For over 30 years, the nation has waited patiently for the state to fulfill its end of the Southern Tier Expressway Agreement. We are tired of waiting,” John said.

In a letter to Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the tribe requested that negotiations begin within seven days.

Spitzer's office did not immediately return a call for comment.

The Tribal Council's vote Thursday followed an April 14 council decision to rescind a 1954 resolution that paid the Senecas $75,000 to allow part of the New York State Thruway to cross the Senecas' Cattaraugus Reservation, also in western New York.

Following that vote, John said the nation was reviewing several of its agreements in light of the state's intention to collect sales tax from reservation sales of gasoline and cigarettes to non-Indian customers - something the tribe vigorously opposes.

The Tribal Council listed several provisions of the Southern Tier Expressway Agreement it said the state had not fulfilled, including keeping the roadway “in as good or better condition” than other state roads and improving health care for nation members.

Tribal leaders also took exception with the decision to designate the expressway as a U.S. Interstate without consulting them.

The agreement paid the nation $494,386.

The 8,000-member tribe has been putting pressure on Spitzer since he took office in January with the intention of collecting reservation sales taxes. About 500 Senecas staged an anti-tax rally in Buffalo in March and plan another rally May 22. Last month, the nation unveiled an Albany-area ad campaign opposing the taxes. The nation says federal treaties dating to the 1700s shield them from state taxation.

Spitzer's predecessor, George Pataki, backed off collecting reservation sales taxes after the Senecas burned tires and shut down part of the Thruway in clashes with state police when the issue was raised in 1997.

Earlier this month, a Spitzer spokeswoman said the governor had agreed to meet with Seneca leaders but that no date had been set.