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Wanted: Old tollbooths for use by Seneca Nation
Request latest move in dispute with state
By Dan Herbeck NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Updated: 05/16/07 7:05 AM
The Seneca Nation of Indians, which has threatened to charge motorists on the State Thruway that runs through its Cattaraugus Reservation, says it is in the market for some used tollbooths.
The nation wants to buy the dormant South Ogden and Breckenridge booths on the Niagara Thruway, but the contractor hired to tear down the booths says that won’t happen.
Seneca officials said Tuesday they authorized their foreign relations committee to try to purchase the booths and to explore the possibility of installing them on the section of Thruway that runs through Seneca lands near Silver Creek.
Seneca President Maurice A. John Sr. confirmed the tribe’s interest in the used tollbooths.
“The nation is serious about the issues affecting its land and the highways that go through it,” John said. “The nation intends to go forward with changes in its arrangements involving these highways.”
John’s statement Tuesday is the latest salvo in a tax dispute between the Senecas and state officials, particularly Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer.
The Senecas are upset over the governor’s plans to collect taxes on cigarette and gasoline sales from Indian merchants to non-Indians. This year’s state budget anticipates $200 million in tax collections from those transactions.
An official of Oakgrove Construction of Elma said the state wants the tollbooths. Oakgrove last month submitted the low bid of $857,968 for a contract to demolish and remove Niagara Thruway toll barriers.
“There has been some contact with the Senecas, but we do a lot of work for the Thruway Authority, and we wouldn’t want to be caught in the middle of an embarrassing situation,” said Vincent Barbera, a vice president at Oakgrove. “It’s also our understanding that the state wants the booths . . . possibly to use for parts in repairing other tollbooths.”
Thruway spokeswoman Betsy Graham agreed with Barbera that the state has no plans to sell the booths .
The state shut down the toll collections on the Niagara Thruway last year after a legal battle between the state and Buffalo businessman Carl P. Paladino, who said the collections were an illegal tax on commuters.
Last month, the Senecas said they were disavowing a 1954 easement that allowed the state to build a Thruway section through the Cattaraugus Reservation. The Senecas also said they plan to void a 1976 easement that allowed the state to build the Southern Tier Expressway through the Allegany Reservation near Salamanca.
On April 19, John warned the state that his nation might erect tollbooths on the Thruway and begin its own toll collections.
Barbera said the Niagara Thruway barrier demolition work should begin next month and probably would take eight to 10 weeks.