The Cattaraugus County Legislature has added its voice to a growing group of those who want repairs made to 11.5 miles of Interstate 86 near Salamanca.
The legislature's letter comes after union leaders representing more than 5,000 Western New York construction workers wrote letters to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging him to settle disagreements with the Seneca Nation of Indians and start the $28.5 million reconstruction project.
"Bluntly, the lives of the residents of Cattaraugus County and those of the traveling public are being placed at risk by the actions taken, or not taken, by the New York state Department of Transportation," said Norman L. Marsh, legislature chairman. "Route I-86 is a primary artery for tourism and commerce. This route is the main access corridor into Allegany State Park, the largest park in the New York state park system. Tourism and travel into the county along Route I-86 is a large source of tax dollars for not only the county, but also for the state. We would not want to see any decreases in this revenue that might result by delaying repairs to this road."
The disagreement between state Thruway and transportation officials and the nation focuses on adhering to nation laws. Nation officials asked the federal government to re-allocate the $28.5 million for the nation to reconstruct the expressway.
"While we are acutely aware of the ongoing disagreements between the state of New York and the Seneca Nation of Indians, the resulting situation created by this current iteration jeopardizes the public's welfare and holds many uninvolved members of the public hostage to this dispute," Marsh wrote. "In a real sense, New York's new motto 'Open for Business' should be amended to include the words, '...if you can get there safely in one piece.' Regardless of who may be perceived or argued to be at fault, the residents of Cattaraugus County respectfully demand that this situation be addressed and that the planned road work proceed as originally scheduled."
The nation's decision to seek takeover of the project came after an extraordinary joint phone call May 14 from Thomas Madison, Thruway Authority executive director, and Joan MacDonald, state DOT commissioner. Seneca officials report they told Porter and other nation officials that the project would not adhere to the nation's Tribal Employment Rights Office rules.
Those rules, followed on nearly every New York state project that crossed nation territory since 1993, require nation monitors be present at construction sites to look out for nation interests, including land use, environmental rules and project completion and quality. The state officials added that TERO rules would no longer be followed on any future projects.
Porter, in a May 22 letter to the two Cuomo administration officials offering to continue talks to resolve the issue, said no attempts by the state to begin reconstruction of Southern Tier Expressway on its territory will be permitted if they ignore TERO rules.
Porter and Clark initiated contact with the Federal Highway Administration to take over the project because the money the state proposed to use to fund the reconstruction comes from federal highway budgets. Under Seneca treaties with the federal government, the nation can seek United States' intervention on such issues.