Niagara Gazette

August 13, 2009

SENECAS: Golf course issue heads to feds

<!--Mark Scheer--><table width="234" border="0" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0" background="http://static.cnhi.zope.net/flashpromo/niagaragazette/images/byline_234x60.jpg" height="60"><tr><td><div align="center"><font size="3" face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">By Mark Scheer</font><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif"><br /></font><font size="1" face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif"><a href="mailto:mark.scheer@niagara-gazette.com">mark.scheer@niagara-gazette.com</a></font></div></td></tr></table>

The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency will ask for a clarification on the enforcement of the Seneca Nation’s Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance at the Hickory Stick Golf Course in Lewiston.

At the request of NCIDA Board member and Laborer’s Local 91 Business Manager Robert Connolly, agency attorney Mark Gabriele agreed on Thursday to ask the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Equal Employment Opportunity Office for a more detailed explanation of TERO and its relationship, if any, to the golf course project.

TERO, established in 1993 by the Seneca Nation, allows for Native preference to be used in the hiring of workers on Sovereign Native land. The tribe has the right to enact a Native preference law based on its right to self-govern on registered Indian lands and reservations.

During Thursday’s NCIDA board meeting, Connolly said contractors working on the golf course project have been told in recent months of their need to hire Seneca workers. Connolly wants to know if the practice is allowed at the course, which is not located on sovereign land. Connolly and at least one contractor, Sue-Perior Concrete and Paving in West Seneca, also have raised concerns about TERO enforcement at the course, which is covered by a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement provided by the NCIDA.

“It didn’t start out that way,” Connolly said. “But part way through the job, they told the contractors they had to hire so many Senecas.”

The IDA board recently approved a yearlong extension on the tax rider it provided to the Lewiston Golf Course Corp., the entity that is overseeing the construction project. The rider allowed the LGCC to be exempt of sales tax when purchasing equipment and materials used to build the 250-acre course.

If there are any violations of the IDA’s rider, the agency could place the LGCC on 30 days notice to fix the problem or jeopardize its tax breaks.

Gabriele suggested the board seek clarification on the TERO issue, saying the agency is not well-versed on the rules for the program or its enforcement.

Sloma agreed, adding that when golf course officials first approached the agency for project assistance there was a general understanding that such hiring requirements would not be in place.

“This seems to be inconsistent with that casual understanding,” Sloma said.

Last week, a spokesperson for the Department of the Interior’s Bureau for Indian Affairs said the land in question is not sovereign land.

“In order for a territory to be considered sovereign, they must be registered with us, in our computers and the lands that are in question are not, meaning that they are private or public lands and not-native,” the representative said.

Board member Angelo Massaro supported the request for outside opinions on the matter, but said he also would like clarification on the relationship between the LGCC, the Seneca Gaming Corp. and the Seneca Nation of Indians itself. He said the role of the various entities involved could make a difference when it comes to answering the question of whether TERO can be enforced at the site.

Sloma asked Gabriele to obtain answers from the applicable federal agencies by the next NCIDA meeting in September.

Contact reporter Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250.