A dispute between the Department of Transportation and the Seneca Nation of Indians is heating up.
The New York State DOT appeared in Evans Thursday saying it would reallocate $47 million in road construction funding for a section of Interstate 86 in Cattaraugus County and Routes 5 and 20 if the Seneca Nation continues to block work.
DOT commissioner Joan McDonald said they will not pay the Seneca's $1.7 million in administration fees to conduct road repairs.
"To get the I-86, $29 million project moving forward, that we would be the $1.7 million fee into an escrow account, then it would be deducted from the $400 million that Seneca Nation owes the State of New York and localities here in Western New York from gaming revenues," said McDonald in a WBFO News interview.
But Seneca president Robert Odwai Porter said the state has refused to make repairs because they will not comply with a Nation law. The Seneca's are asking the state to pay administrative fees for two state road projects.
McDonald, invited by the Seneca Nation Council member Travis Jimmerson to discuss the transportation issue, declined, citing her desire to avoid “surprises.”
McDonald was then confronted by Alan Pero, international supervisor of the Operating Engineers, Local 17. He told the commissioner that the state was playing with the safety of the traveling public and holding it hostage in a dispute over a Nation law the state has operated under seamlessly for 19 years.
“The primary issue is public safety, which is foremost for the Nation because our people and our neighbors live, work and play here. The state is playing politics with public safety and that is wrong,” President Porter said.
“The governor’s most recent proposal to use disputed casino dollars is typical Albany gamesmanship,” President Porter said. “Only a fool would use money that might not be your own to pay bills. The state of New York should do what it has done for 19 years. Follow our laws, allow 400 Western New York union members to get to work, and repair the substandard highways and bridges that in any other region of New York State would be already underway.”
"We do not agree with the Seneca Nation's demands to pay $1.7 million in fees to do a project on their land," said McDonald.