BUFFALO - The Seneca Indian Nation and New York state resolved a dispute Monday that has held up much-needed repairs to a portion of highway running through the tribe's western New York territory.
A joint statement said the two sides have agreed to a framework to allow work to start on the Southern Tier Expressway, Interstate 86, in Cattaraugus County, as well as other road projects on Seneca land.
Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration have been at odds over fees sought by the Senecas to monitor the projects.
"Fixing I-86 is a public safety and economic priority, and I commend Governor Cuomo and the Seneca Nation for working together to find a solution. Getting construction underway immediately will put people to work and alleviate increasingly dangerous roadway conditions. The highway literally was breaking into pieces. We couldn't be more thrilled that an agreement was reached," said state Sen. Catherine Young, (R-Olean).
Last week, the feud escalated when state Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald threatened to reallocate $47 million to other projects in the absence of a quick resolution.
"I am very pleased that the state has resolved the issues with the Seneca Nation as it relates to the upgrade of I-86," Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, (R-Chautauqua), told The Post-Journal.
Goodell said there were a number of reasons he was pleased, including first and foremost the fact "the road was in such terrible condition and was a safety hazard." He went on to mention how many phone calls he has received from constituents who have had tires blown out, or signs on their vehicles fall off due to the constant vibrations while traveling that stretch of road.
"I am familiar with that road as I travel it twice a week to and from Albany," Goodell said, noting he himself has had several mechanical repairs made to his vehicle including shocks, struts and rack and pinion work, most likely as a result from traveling that stretch of road.
"It's probably cost as much as the vehicle was worth," he said jokingly, noting the vehicle is well over the 200,000 mile mark.
Goodell also noted that a Jamestown company has been chosen to provide the asphalt for the project.
Under Monday's agreement, the Senecas will receive a 3 percent administrative fee on the $28.5 million Southern Tier Expressway repaving project. The nation had sought 3.5 percent, a fee amount it said had been built in to contracts involving work on nation territory since 1993 under the nation's Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO) rules.
Tribal leaders said they were told by state officials in May that the state would not apply TERO rules to the Southern Tier Expressway project or any others going forward. McDonald said last week the department was willing to pay the fees, but not increased fees sought by the Senecas.
Monday's one-paragraph statement said the agreement had been approved by the Seneca Tribal Council and that "the contractor will deploy to the site as soon as feasible."
"The traveling public is ecstatic," Assemblyman Joe Giglio (R-Gowanda), said. "Thousands of residents from the Southern Tier and Western New York must travel I-86 for work and other essential purposes, and the improvement of the highway will make it safely passable once again. Commercial trucks and trailers transporting goods to small and large businesses across our area will be able to do so via a highway that is safe."