SALAMANCA - State Transportation Department officials will start work Monday on a highway project on Seneca Nation territory if construction workers are granted access.
Seneca Nation officials say that will happen as long as Joan McDonald, state DOT commissioner, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agree to three demands made Friday.
McDonald sent a letter to Robert Odawi Porter, Seneca Nation president, early Friday afternoon asking for the Seneca Nation's cooperation. She said the $29 million project to reconstruct 11.5 miles of highway on Interstate 86 would start Monday if workers are allowed on the site. McDonald said a contractor has been selected, is ready to commence work and will employ more than 450 people. She also said the state is ready to recommence the $1.275 million for the Route 5 and 20 paving project.
"Will you grant access to the site beginning Monday morning and ensure safety of the construction workers so DOT may spend the $31 million committed to these projects, including the $1.3 million in (Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance) plus project monitoring fees?" McDonald asked of Porter. "Or does it remain your position that your wife's construction company, (Seneca Construction Management Corporation), should be authorized to do this work?''
Odie Porter, Robert Odawi Porter's wife, is the president and chief executive officer for the Seneca Construction Management Corporation.
"Commissioner, I realize that you may not be willing to meet with or work with the Seneca Nation leadership directly, but personal attacks on members of my immediate family - based no less on information that is factually inaccurate, as the company you mentioned is a wholly owned subsidiary of a Seneca Nation-owned corporation, not a company owned by my wife - are clearly unnecessary, unprofessional and inappropriate," Porter said Friday evening.
The Seneca Nation's three demands include: the state signing the Project Specific Agreement the Nation agreed to in January; signing an amendment saying the state will pay $92,000 to a Seneca-chosen contractor for monitoring of the state's project; and directing the state's contractor to coordinate with Larry Becelia, Allegany TERO director, the submission of a TERO Compliance Plan, including payment of the current $1.3 million TERO fee.
The TERO fee is a regulation that requires 3.5 percent paid of the total construction costs to the nation by any employer working on Native American territory.
In the state's letter to Porter, McDonald said the TERO payments and additional payments for project monitoring have been included since the beginning.
While Porter was "appreciative of the state's willingness to comply with Nation law," he did also say that "any changes to January's project agreement must be approved by the Nation's Council."
According to the Seneca Nation, the original project agreement was never signed by the state, and may still be a sticking point before shovels hit the dirt.
On Thursday, McDonald said during a news conference the state is prepared to shift $47 million in planned road and bridge construction on Seneca Indian land to other Western New York localities if the ongoing dispute with the tribe isn't resolved.
Porter also held a news conference Thursday stating the situation is a ''very serious matter'' and worries that the bridge that connects Chautauqua to Erie County in Irving could be red-flagged at any time along with three other bridges on Nation territory.
''It's not just a matter of public safety that affects the Seneca Nation but a matter of public safety that affects everyone that lives, works and engages in commerce here in this part of Western New York,'' Porter said.
McDonald echoed Porter's sentiments in her letter Friday.
"The rehabilitation and roadway improvement will ensure safety on this important highway and will benefit all residents - Seneca and non-Indian alike - as well as the general motoring public."