May 24, 2008 Senior Editor Uncategorized
The Department of Interior announced May 20 its intent to acquire a little more than 13,000 acres of Oneida Indian Nation-owned property. The long-awaited decision is in response to the Nation’s 2005 application for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take more than 17,000 acres into trust.
“In rendering this determination, the Department understands that the Nation has no plans to convert any of the Subject Lands to gaming or gaming-related uses, except where the lands are already being used for those purposes (i.e., the Turning Stone Resort & Casino),” wrote Department of Interior Associate Deputy Secretary James E. Cason in the 73-page Record of Decision.
The properties are located in Madison and Oneida counties.
Madison County Board of Supervisors Chairman John M. Becker (R,C,I — Sullivan) said he was not surprised by the decision.
“It’s nothing earth shattering,” Becker said. “It’s what we figured what the BIA told us in February, it pretty much mirrored that.”
The Nation expressed satisfaction with the decision in a prepared statement.
“The Oneida people are sincerely grateful to everyone whose hard work has led to this initial step toward further securing our Oneida homelands,” said Oneida Nation Representative and CEO Ray Halbritter.
City of Oneida Mayor Peter Hedglon said the city’s analysis of tax impact shows a loss of about $104,000 per year, using 2008 tax dollars.
“But the Record of Decision projects a much smaller amount, about $58,000 or $59,000,” Hedglon said. “I haven’t reconciled those numbers yet to figure out where the difference is. We’re looking at an increase of about 2 percent in taxes, and it could be more.”
“I was disappointed to learn that the federal Department of Interior (DOI) failed New York State and the residents of my district today,” said Assemblyman David Townsend, who represents western Oneida County in the state’s 115th Assembly District. “Rather than listen to the families, neighbors, and taxpayers, who must ultimately live with the profound upheaval this short-sighted land grab would cause to the economic and environmental quality of their communities, Washington has chosen to ignore hours of public-hearing testimony, countless letters to the editor, and newspapers’ editorials, conservative and liberal alike, and instead violate the laws of New York State and its people’s rights, especially those of seniors and schoolchildren.”
Becker said the county has sent a letter to Gov. David Paterson asking him to get personally involved in the matter.
“[New York State Law] Article II, Section 10 calls on the governor to defend New York against all threats to its lands inconsistent with its sovereignty,” Townsend said. “I’d say that a 13,000-acre land annexation by a thoughtless federal agency and an Indian tribe with an estimated $500 million in arrears according to a study commissioned by the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business qualifies as a threat to the physical integrity of New York.”
Cason wrote in the Record of Decision summary that the DoI’s final determination was reached after an individual parcel-by-parcel review and decision on the Nation’s request based on an analysis of the Nation’s application, land acquisition regulations and a review of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Final EIS, administrative record and comments received from the public, state and federal agencies, local governmental entities and potentially affected Indian tribes.
“Our attorneys are reading over the Record of Decision, and the Native American Affairs Committee met [May 22],” Becker said. “Native American Affairs will probably meet before the next Board of Supervisors meeting so we’ll know where we’re going from there.”
“Ongoing future disagreements may be resolved through a reasonable negotiation process. A settlement, of course, would require all parties to make compromises,” Halbritter said. “For our part, the Oneida people are willing to do so. We are willing to negotiate a limit on the amount, and locations, of future trust land acquisitions, none of which is required by law. The state and counties must offer good-faith compromises as well, rather than insist upon retaining the same positions they have held for more than a decade, if we expect to reach an understanding.
“In order to reach a resolution of our differences, which the Oneida people are committed to doing, leadership on both sides must bring people together,” Halbritter said. “Calls for continued rancor and ongoing expensive litigation have accomplished nothing to resolve these issues for our community but have made some lawyers wealthy on both sides. We must continually ask ourselves about the legacy we are to leave our children. The answer, we believe, depends on how we conduct ourselves, both publicly and privately, going forward.”
“Peter Carmen, the Nation’s attorney, said negotiations can still go on even with litigation,” Becker said. “We are hoping that is what happens.”
The application: A brief history
2005: Oneida Indian Nation submitted an application to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs requesting the Secretary of the Interior to acquire approximately 17,370 acres in trust for the Nation.
November 2006: The Draft EIS was issued for public review.
December 2006: A public hearing was held in Utica.
January 2007: Original public comment period ended.
February 2007: A second public hearing was held in Verona, and the extended public comment period ended.
February 2008: The Final Environmental Impact Statement was issued. The document analyzed the potential effects of acquiring into trust the 17,370 acres requested by the Nation. Eight alternatives also were detailed.
May 20, 2008: The Record of Decision announces that the action to be implemented is the acquisition of approximately 13,003.89 acres in trust for the Nation under a modification of the Preferred Alternative (Alternative I). A little more than 80 acres in Stockbridge will remain on the tax rolls.